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Growing up I ate a lot of soft eggs, at my mom’s house it was often tamago kake gohan (raw egg over hot Japanese rice), at my dad’s strammer max (a slice of butter-fried rye bread topped with ham and a fried egg). The first time I had shakshuka at a friend’s house it hit that same comforting sweet spot, and I’ve been making it at home ever since. Often eaten for breakfast like the simple egg dishes I grew up with, it’s also fantastic for dinner.
Izak N37, our dry version of harissa using sweet chilis, garlic, and cumin, is a nod to the dish’s Tunisian origins, and Sheba N40 adds heat and the gentle warmth and sweetness of ginger and cinnamon.
Instead of plain salt I use a combination of shio koji, (Japanese salted and fermented rice with a mellow and umami-rich flavor), and salt preserved lemon, which provides acidity and freshness without bitterness.
Serves 3, make a double batch in two skillets for a crowd
1 onion, 1/4" dice or thin strips depending on how chunky you like it
3 sweet peppers (your choice, I like a mix of red and green), 1/4" dice or thin strips
2 big cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 28 oz can of plum tomatoes with juice, roughly crushed by hand (if you want to use fresh when they are in season, about 10-12 small ones, blanched and peeled, will do)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp shio koji
2 tsp preserved lemon rind, finely minced
Sweetness (raw sugar, honey, etc.) to taste (depends on how sweet the peppers, tomatoes, and onions are)
Heat (cayenne, harissa, more Sheba N40, etc.) and salt to taste
Chopped fresh cilantro and/or parsley for garnish
Optional garnishes: lemon zest (preserved or fresh), zhoug, chili oil
In a heavy 10-12 inch skillet warm the olive oil over medium heat. When fragrant add the onions and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for 5-7 minutes more or until everything is softened and lightly browned.
Add garlic and spices and cook for 2-3 minutes more, stirring more frequently. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, shio koji, and preserved lemon and drop the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 10-15 minutes or until noticeably thicker, like thin pasta sauce. Taste and adjust for sweetness, salt, and heat.
Make a small divot for each egg with a spoon and gently crack an egg into each, keeping the yolk intact. Cover pan with a lid and simmer until whites are set but yolks are still runny (timing will depend on how you like your eggs but 5 minutes is a good time to check them).
Garnish and serve with toasted bread (I prefer sourdough) and green zhoug* (optional, but this cilantro-laden Yemeni hot sauce is a great match, Yemen has a delicious version of shakshuka as well, which is more of a scramble).
* Here's my recipe for zhoug:
• It's a similar process to pesto. You can use a big mortar and pestle or a food processor, the former gives a better texture, flavor, and emulsion but takes longer, up to you.
• First toast and finely grind 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of caraway, and the seeds of 4 green cardamom pods.
• Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 4-5 peeled and crushed cloves of garlic, and 7-10 stemmed, seeded, and chopped hot green peppers (jalapeño, serrano, or a mix, pick the heat level you like) and continue to process.
• Add the roughly chopped leaves and stems of 2 bunches total of parsley and cilantro (about 5 cups total, you can sub either with the other depending on your tastes) and process until all large pieces have been ground.
• Slowly add 1/4 cup of olive oil and mix until you have smooth sauce that still has some texture. Taste and adjust salt to your preference.
• Will easily keep for a few weeks in the fridge, store in an airtight container and pour a small layer of olive oil over the top and it'll stay bright green for longer.
• Toast english muffins and top with thin slices of feta, poached eggs, and shakshuka sauce for a vegetarian take on Eggs Benedict.
• Use the sauce to make a delicious take on pizza.
• Quick and lazy. Make the sauce, then pan-fry eggs and plop them on top. This works very well with leftover sauce when you want to just have one egg for example. You can also fry the egg and serve with sauce on top like a salsa. Or serve over a tortilla ranchero style.
• Start with the peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes and play with other flavors and spices. The base is versatile and can go in many directions, think enchiladas, cioppino, lamb ragu. All are amazing with soft eggs.
Food image and recipe © Christian Leue.
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