Shakshuka is one of those great rustic, versatile, eat anytime meals that are super easy to make. The name shakshuka indicates the way this dish is prepared, “all shaken up”. Eggs poached in a spicy tomato, garlic, onion and sweet green pepper ragout flavored with salty, smoky gideed*, my mouth is watering already! I like to poke the runny yolks to thicken the sauce, before dipping with fresh bread from the oven. Great for camping, eating on a budget or when it seems there’s nothing left in the fridge. No wonder people love it so much.
I thought Libyan soup was popular. Turns out shakshuka is much more widely known, but it is also shrouded in controversy. This ultimate Libyan fast food has been adopted and used by so many countries around the Mediterranean, it’s hard to tell who came up with it first. I would definitely say that it’s North African, and I prefer to think that we do it best. Without Libyan gideed, shakshuka would just be another Mexican huevos rancheros, Greek avga me domates, Italian uova al pomodoro, Middle Eastern jazmaz, or Turkish menemen.
Many would say that shakshuka is an integral part of Sephardic Jewish cuisine, indigenous to North Africa. This may explain why this dish has made its way to Israel being showcased in a way it has never been in the Maghreb states. Bino Gabso left the Jewish community in Tripoli in 1949, and moved to Israel to settle with his family. For the past 18 years he has run a successful eatery in Tel Aviv aptly named Dr. Shakshuka, serving a wide range of Tripolitanian comfort food. When asked if there was a secret to his shakshuka he replied:
It is Libyan food. There is no secret. In Tripoli, people only have food. They have nothing else in their lives. They don’t have music, anything. When they’re at work, all they think about is food, and how they’re going to make it when they finish work. Tim Franks, Jerusalem Diary :4 May 2009, BBC News
Yes Dr. Shakshuka you got us. We are food! At least we can hold your words as proof of shakshuka‘s nationality. Maybe we should apply for a passport just in case. It seems everyone wants to claim it. So much so, it can spark heated arguments about it’s origins as one Liel Leibovitz, a Jewish writer, was involved in.
A Greek? Making shakshuka?” said Tzachi, a short and temperamental man with warm brown eyes and a hairy chest. “Please, that’s Moroccan food, leave it to us.”
“Moroccan?” came a voice from the other end of the tent. “How dare you, punk?” It was Danny, and he wasn’t happy. Shakshuka, he said, originated from Tripoli, and was brought to Israel by Libyan Jews. Greeks and Moroccans, he said, have no right to claim it. Liel Leibovitz, All Shakshuka Up, The Jewish Week
A fellow Libyan blogger writing under the pseudonym Anglo-Libyan, posted his thoughts earlier this year on how outraged he was that the Israelis are claiming shakshuka as their own. His argument is that even if this dish was a staple part of the Libyan-Jewish diet, the fact remains that the dish originated in this region, and is therefore Libyan. I tend to agree, but culinary classification is a difficult science. There are endless ways by which foods can be grouped. As far as geography is concerned though, it is most likely that shakshuka was first made in the Maghreb region regardless of the race or religion of the people who invented it.
In the end it doesn’t take a genius to put eggs and tomatoes together, we can all agree that they are a logical match. So let’s leave all the bickering out of the kitchen and enjoy this protein and nutrient packed dish with a smile.
But I still think we did it first…just had to get that in… sorry!
The Classic Libyan Shakshuka Recipe
This version is made using dried preserved lamb known as gideed. This is usually made at home but can be found sold in jars at some butcher shops in Tripoli. A good alternative would be to use spicy mergeuz sausages, or any other sausages available to you. You can also omit the meat element completely if you prefer a lighter dish.
Preparation Time 10 min
Cooking Time 30 min
8 pieces Gideed* , 2 per person; or alternatively 2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 sweet green peppers, deseeded and diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated
4 large ripe plum tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp red cayenne pepper or paprika (adjust according to preference)
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 cup water
Salt to season
Heat a large non-stick frying pan on medium-high heat. Add gideed if using, allow the fat to melt, drain off any excess fat. Alternatively, pour 2 tbsp olive oil into the pan.
Add onions and peppers. Sauté until soft, add garlic. Stir, add the diced tomatoes
Once the tomatoes have started to soften and release their juices, add the turmeric, cumin and chili/paprika. This is a good time to season with salt to taste. If using gideed you may want to omit the salt because of the high salt content of the meat itself.
Stir well, allow the spices to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato paste. Stir again, coating all of the meat and vegetables with the paste.
Add water and stir well. Bring to a bubbling simmer, and reduce the heat to medium or low depending on the strength of your flame. Allow to gently simmer for 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens slighty.
Make four wells with the back of a spoon in the sauce. Crack an egg in each well. Cover and allow eggs to poach to the consistency you prefer; about 5 minutes for runny yolks, up to 10 minutes for hard yolks.
Remove from the heat, serve hot straight from the pan with warm bread.
* Gideed is salted dried lamb, deep fried and preserved in fat.