Shakshuka – rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn’t it? There’s much to relish in the name as well as in the dish – softly set eggs nesting in a saucy, savoury-sweet nest with a smidgen of heat .Originally from Tunisia, but popular all over North and West Africa as well as some parts of the Middle East, this breakfast dish has caught the fancy of the world. You’ll find many a vegan shakshuka recipe that leaves out the eggs and add beans and vegetables but the simplicity of eggs poached in a tomato and red pepper sauce enriched with cumin and harissa, still remains the most popular version.
Harissa is an African spice paste that lies at the soul of a good shakshuka recipe. Roasted red peppers, tomato paste, red chillies, garlic and onion shot with cumin, coriander and caraway seeds. Many a shakshuka is made without harissa but I really feel that the spices lend a rich toastiness – think sweet, grassy smoke – to the juicy bulk of tomatoes. A generous spoonful of harissa just seems to complete the shakshuka, flavourwise. It needs nothing more. The small effort it takes to make your own harissa is so worth it, because it keeps beautifully in the fridge and can be summoned in a pinch to marinate meats, flavour soups and stews or add extra oomph to a curry.
Making harissa at home is easy. It isn’t commonly available here in India, so I had little choice but to make my own. But then I got Yotam Ottolenghi’s harissa recipe and realised how simple it is. Now I make a little extra and that stash has come to my rescue many a time helping me make last minute dinner decisions. Bell peppers roast in a jiffy or you can even prep them ahead of time. Then all that is left to do is to quickly saute the onion and garlic, toast a few spices and blitz them in a food processor to a fine paste.
I used fresh, ripe, red tomatoes, fleshy and bursting with the juice of summer sunshine in this easy shakshuka recipe . But canned tomatoes will do just fine. Thick tomato paste or puree from a tube (you need just a little bit) bumps up the tomato flavour in the dish. Garlic is a must for any tomato-based sauce, a few herbs here and there, a healthy glug of good olive oil and fresh, bright eggs is all you need to cook up a stress-free, easy meal of shakshuka. The eggs are cracked one by one in little pockets of thick and bubbly sauce where they are gently poached for a few minutes so that they are cooked but still runny. Needless to say, the doneness of the eggs depends on how you like them. Runny or firm, either way, they must be eaten right away, every bit of lip-smacking sauce mopped up.
Traditionally a breakfast dish, shakshuka eggs show up on the lunch, brunch and dinner table in my home. I can eat it at any time. I mean eggs poached in a delicious sauce – nothing posh or fancy about it. But rather, a freeing, democratic dish by any standards. Tailor it to your taste. Make this easy shakshuka recipe your own.
For the harissa
- 1 red pepper
- 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 1/2 tbsps olive oil
- 1 small red onion coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic coarsely chopped
- 3 hot red chillies seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the shakshuka
- 4 fresh eggs
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 red peppers charred in the oven, peeled and chopped
- 5 ripe tomatoes chopped
- 2 tsp harissa paste
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 ½ tsp red chilli flakes
- ½ tsp paprika optional
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp fresh coriander chopped
To make harissa
- Halve and seed the pepper. Lightly oil and char on a sheet pan under a very hot broiler, turning occasionally for about 25 minutes, until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft. Place in a bowl, cover with clingfilm, and allow to cool. Peel and set aside
- Use a frying pan over low heat to lightly toast the coriander, cumin, and caraway seeds for 2 minutes.
- Heat olive oil in the same pan over medium heat, and fry the onion, garlic, and chillies for 10 to 12 minutes, until a dark smoky color and almost caramelized.
- In a food processor blitz all the ingredients to a smooth paste, adding a little more oil if needed. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or even longer.
To make shakshuka
- Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan (a wide surface is needed so that the eggs can be well spaced and get to cook evenly) on low heat and lightly cook the garlic for a minute or less taking care not to burn it.
- Add the harissa, thyme, chilli flakes, cumin powder and paprika and cook for 2 minutes.
- Now tip in the roasted peppers and chopped tomatoes, season with salt and simmer till they break down and go all soft and mushy.
- When the sauce is thick and nicely simmering, clear little round patches in the sauce using the back of a spoon, and gently crack the eggs so that they set in a pocket of sauce.
- Cook the eggs on low heat for 2 minutes and turn off the heat. Allow them to cook in the warm sauce for 2-3 minutes more until they are somewhat set.
- Sprinkle chopped coriander and serve immediately.