A popular breakfast and/or anytime food in Israel, shakshuka is both dead simple to make right and surprisingly easy to make wrong. A specialty of the Jews of northern Africa, almost every Israeli has a firmly-held opinion on what constitutes the proper ingredients and method of preparation for shakshuka — and by and large (he said, modestly) almost every Israeli is incorrect. I learned from the Moroccans. My shakshuka has made women weep. It is perfect. If you disagree, you need to seriously evaluate the choices that led you to this miserable station of your existence. I will brook no dissent. And no onions. No dissent or onions.
Technically, what you will be making at first is matbucha, AKA salade cuite AKA ensalada cocha (cooked salad), which is a perfectly delicious accompaniment to bread in its own right. Once you reheat it and poach eggs in it, the resulting dish is shakshuka, which makes for a wonderful meal any time of the day. My friends, Jew and Gentile alike, clamor for its heartwarming goodness. So without further ado:
- 4 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (or one of the really huge restaurant-supply-sized cans some stores sell)
- 6 Anaheim peppers
- 1 head garlic
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika (give or take)
1) These are the tomatoes you want. Whole, peeled and canned. You can go ahead and spend twenty dollars on “fresh” tomatoes and go through the trouble of blanching, shocking and peeling them, but since these tomatoes are going to be cooked for hours, I wouldn’t bother. One note: check the ingredients label on the tomatoes for salt. If they’re salted (they probably are), you shouldn’t have to add salt to the matbucha (or at least you should be very careful doing so).
2) Pour all your tomatoes into a large bowl, along with their canning liquid, like so. Crush them by hand (watch for splatters). You want uneven, raggedy chunks. Some big, some small, whatever – as long as there are no whole tomatoes in there, you’re good. The uneven texture is important to the nature of the finished dish. You don’t want tomato sauce. It needs to be chunky.
3) Turn on your oven broiler and set the grate right underneath it. Arrange the peppers on a cookie sheet like so. Broil them, turning when necessary, until they’re blackened and blistered on all sides. (You can also do this over an open gas flame, or on a grill).
They’ll look like that. Put them all together in a brown paper bag, wrap tightly, and put aside to let them cool.
4) Very roughly chop the head of garlic. Just smash the skin off the cloves with the flat of your knife and cut into chunks. No delicate mincing necessary.
5) Once the peppers are cool to the touch, remove them from the bag and peel off the skins. Once the skins are peeled, you can slit each pepper down the middle with your knife and then roll it open, and scrape all the seeds and membranes right off to the side as pictured. Repeat for each pepper. Once all peppers are peeled and cleaned, put them in a pile and cut them into a rough julienne. Don’t need to be fancy.
6) Heat the 3/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Simmer the chopped garlic for several minutes, until everything is nice and aromatic.
7) Add the crushed tomatoes, along with their canning liquid, and the peppers. Bring to a brief boil and then reduce to a low simmer. Let simmer uncovered for at least a couple of hours.
8) There’s no exact science here, but the matbucha is ready when it’s thickened, the chunks of garlic are soft, and the flavors have come together. It should still be somewhat liquidy, as above, but you should be able to see how much it’s cooked down from the prior image.
9) Check for flavor. If it needs salt, add some. This is when I add the paprika. Usually at this point the matbucha is somewhat acidic; I add paprika and mix until the sweetness of the paprika comes through, cutting down the acidity of the matbucha.
10) Transfer to a container and let sit refrigerated overnight. It’s very important that the flavors are allowed to further develop at least overnight (or longer). The matbucha itself, after it’s been allowed to sit, serves as an excellent mezze for pita or whatever you like, and it keeps very well for several days (it can also be frozen indefinitely).
If you’d like to make your matbucha into shakshuka, however, the next day (or the next one, or whenever), take a large skillet, put in a splash of olive oil, and then a generous ladleful or two of the matbucha (enough to completely cover the bottom of the pan).
Heat on low until the matbucha is simmering. Then use a spoon to make little clearings in the matbucha and crack an egg into each one:
Keep cooking on low. The level to which the eggs are cooked in shakshuka is a matter of personal choice. I like to cover the skillet with a lid at this point so the whites are completely cooked, top and bottom, leaving the yolks a bit runny, as shown. If you like your yolk cooked harder, once the whites and the bottom of the yolks have set, you can use a spatula to flip the eggs over and cook the tops.
Traditionally, you would serve in the skillet, but if you don’t want to scratch your cookware, just slide the whole affair into a deep plate (I find those Pyrex pie dishes make great shakshuka serving plates). Another serving suggestion (for a heartier meal) is to first heat up a merguez sausage or two in the skillet before adding the matbucha, then continue cooking as normal. Whichever way, serve with plenty of bread. I prefer crusty baguette for shakshuka, but pita works too.
And that’s it. Très facile, n’est-ce pas?