Shakshuka Battles

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.

Shakshuka made on a large scale by Dr. Shakshuka

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.

The article that outraged Anglo-Libyan. Photo of a page from an in-flight magazine presenting shakshuka as an Israeli dish. In all fairness to the article, it does give reference to the Libyan origins of the dish. Taken from

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

Shakshuka served hot, straight from the pan

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.

The gideed, green peppers and onions are sautéed in a non-stick pan

Serves 4

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.

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Sally says:

    Fantastic piece. Really well researched and a pleasure to read – plus a great recipe. I’m sending this to my husband now – as I am overseas and he’s cooking for himself!

  2. Haitam Alageli says:

    Sally, when it comes to food we Libyan men tend to leave the whole story to our ladies (we do only logistics and financing) but Shakshuka and off course E’mbakbaka are more delicious if they are prepared by men so no healthy procedures involved, good luck with your husband with his first Shakshuka, and Sarah that was amazing I can’t wait to go home.

  3. Thanks Sally, and as Haitam said, Shakshuka is a typical dish for men cooking for themselves, so your husband should find this fairly easy. Haitam, guess what’s for lunch today? LOL!

  4. enaas says:

    really it was a good article,after keeping us waiting for a long time,well i am glad that we can claim Shakshouka as our own,Long live libyan cusine and shakshouka..keep them coming Sarah i am getting addicted it seems to your blog!!!!

  5. I’m trying to keep up my pace, but it is hard to produce articles worth reading on a daily basis. And I used to think blogging is easy! Thanks as always.

  6. Leila says:

    Great Article !

    Also another typical dish which is of Turkish origin is the “Imsherusha” in which the eggs(1-2-less eggs than the shakshuka) are scrambled during the cooking time necessary .This very light dish is and was a summer dish when the tomatoes were in full season. A kind of spicy scrambled eggs with fresh tomatoes-

    Than you so much for sharing….

  7. Thank you Leila for sharing that information. It’s great when connections between food in different countries start to appear. It can help us to understand our own cuisines better.

  8. Dr Mona Alqam says:

    Hey Sarah, thanks for the great idea for lunch ; ) Wont have to spend 2 hrs thinking ”What am I gonna cook today…?!?!”
    Loved the article, as always ; )
    Hope u doing well, keep up the great work ; )

  9. Anytime Mona! I always get stuck in a rut thinking about what to cook. And when it’s hot outside I want to make something fast and easy. Bon Apetit!

  10. Anglo-Libyan says:

    I have just discovered your blog, very entertaining and interesting, well done :o)

    1. Thanks Anglo-Libyan, I have heard some great things about your blog too from my friends at Look Out Libya. That’s how I found out about your article on shakshuka:) Keep writing!

  11. Rafram says:

    great blog🙂
    just about Shakshuka. i know dr. shakshuka and i spent some time in Libya and grew up in Tunisia.
    the elders in Tunisia said that shakshuka is originated in Tunisia and in the winter it contains only potatoes.
    it was eaten by libyan jews because the 2 Jewish communities were connected. the interesting thing is that also Palestinians in nablus and ramallah adopted the shakshuka in their houses.

    1. Thanks for the info Rafram, I can use all the tips I can get🙂 Hope you have a wonderful New Year and thank you for reading my blog. Hope you get a chance to read my new posts and let me know what you think.

  12. Majeed Saleh says:

    I am a proud Arab of Libyan and Palestinian ancestry. It is nonsense of Israelis to claim they brought all of the adopted Israeli dishes from their respective countries of origin. Shakshooka is an excellent example. My fiercely old skool grandmother from my Palestinian side has never left her village. She is almost 100 and told me that she has been knocking up Shakshooka since she was 12. Same is true of Maftool what Israelis now call Large Israeli Cous Cous. Everything she cooks has been passed down over success generation and was not learnt from outsiders.

    Fact is they make shakshooka differently in Palestine; they never add meat or chickpeas and in my opinion it’s neither of these things that make the dish so tasty. The secret to great shakshouka is to use quality tangy tomatoes and blitz them at high heat to get a smoky, roasted flavour.

    No one knows where this originated but I sure as hell no that the Israelis would have the world know nothing came from the Palestinians when in fact they have more to thank them for than anyone else.

    1. Haitam Alageli says:

      I’m a 40-year-old Libyan and was 100% sure that Shakshuka is ours, however today my Egyptian mum from Alexandria told me that Shakshuka is actually an Egyptian dish that she remembers her mum preparing it when she was little and they call it Shakshuka.

  13. Salem Ben Lama says:

    Perfect , specially if you drop pieces of geddeed .

  14. it is not important if it was from Libya , Egypt or Palestine ,what is much important that it is an ARABIC familiar dish not Israeli anyway.

    1. yahya jojo says:

      yes sir,,ana lubneni and i remember my grandmother doing shakshuka,in nabatieh.i am now 65

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