If you did not know a dish called Shakshuka and I told you I had it for dinner tonight, you might think I am pulling your leg. Shak-shak-shakshuka. Its an odd sounding name that auto-correct on my document editor will not pick up. But, once you’ve eaten it, Shakshuka is a delicious egg dish that you will want to make over and over again and will easily become a household name in your home. In addition to taste, Shakshuka deserves bonus points because it is simple to make and is a great idea for weeknight dinner. Buy a baguette or any bread you like and serve it alongside the Shakshuka. You can use it to mop up any sauce that is left over on your plate and save yourself the embarrassment of licking the plate. I told you, this is a delicious dish.

Shakshuka is a popular Israeli dish that spread to many parts of North Africa. It consists of a zesty tomato based sauce that eggs are gently poached in. Most traditional Shakshuka recipes don’t call for cheese, but I use grated sharp cheddar cheese in my version. When you taste a forkful of egg, cheese and zesty tomato sauce, you will agree that cheese has to be part of the party. My version here is an adaptation of a recipe that I found on the New York Times.

The ingredients for this recipe are simple. In my opinion, the distinctive flavor in this dish comes from the use of cumin powder. If your tastebuds are fastidious, use a spice grinder to grind up about two teaspoons of cumin seeds. You really need a teaspoon of cumin powder for this dish but keep in mind some of that stuff gets lost in crevices of the spice grinder, so its a safer bet to start with two teaspoons. Pre-ground cumin powder bought from the supermarket is ok too, as long as it hasn’t been in your pantry for ages.

Another important contributor to taste is the type of tomatoes you use. Even though you might be tempted to use fresh tomatoes, especially in the summer months, the best taste is from canned tomatoes. I prefer San Marzano tomatoes; specifically a brand called Cento. San Marzano tomatoes have a nice balance of sweetness and tartness that greatly enhances the flavor of any dish. I usually buy canned whole tomatoes and chop them up before using them.

I usually cook Shakshuka in my 12″ cast iron pan. Cast iron pans do a great job of conducting and maintaining heat so you are not trying to play too much with the adjustments on the stove.

Serves 4
Cooking time: 45 min

Ingredients:
4 tbsps olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 - 1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
28 oz canned tomatoes, diced
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
6 eggs
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a 12" cast iron skillet. Add the sliced onions, sliced red bell peppers, and chopped garlic. Sprinkle about 1/2 tsp of salt on the mixture and cook on gentle heat, stirring regularly until the onions are lightly brown on the edges and peppers are tender, about 15- 20 minutes. Incorporate the cumin powder, paprika, and pepper into the onion mixture, stir for a few seconds to toast the spices. 

Toss in the tomatoes into the pan, and cook for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning by adding about 1/4 - 1/2 tsp more salt, per your taste. 

Lower the heat. Using a spoon, make a small nest in the sauce. Crack an egg into it. Repeat with the other five eggs. Lightly salt and pepper the tops of the eggs. Increase the heat to medium low and cover the pan. Cook for about 5-10 more minutes, depending on how well done you would like your eggs to be. 5 minutes will give you a vigorously runny egg yolk while 10 minutes will get you to the stage of a barely runny egg yolk. About a minute before you are done, sprinkle the cheese over the egg - tomato mixture, and serve garnished with chopped fresh cilantro.

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