Shak­shuka: Is­rael’s hottest break­fast dish

Is­raelis ar­gue about the ori­gin of shak­shuka but the one thing they all agree on is how much they love it. By Bernard Josephs

The Jewish Chronicle - - Life/food -

WHAT IS the best way to pre­pare shak­shuk a, the spicy, warm­ing, veg­etable and egg dish that is a reg­u­lar part of the Is­raeli diet and is usu­ally served as a cooked break­fast or a light lunch?

The an­swer to this vex­ing ques­tion is a huge bone of con­tention around many kitchen ta­bles in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Is­raelis of course love to ar­gue, par­tic­u­larly about food, and the de­bate about what con­sti­tutes a “gen­uine” shak­shuka is at the cen­tre of many a fu­ri­ous de­bate.

They may all agree that the dish is the per­fect way to start the day, and far su­pe­rior to the grease laden all-day break­fasts sam­pled dur­ing trips to Lon­don or New York.

How­ever, Is­raelis ar­gue that only the ver­sion pre­pared over the years by their moth­ers or grand­moth­ers can be de­scribed as truly au­then­tic.

Recipe wars rage end­lessly over the fine de­tails. Some be­lieve that onions should be added to the mix while oth­ers are hor­ri­fied at the thought. Many in­sist that the only veg­etable used should be pep­pers while for other cooks okra or cour­gettes are a pop­u­lar ad­di­tion.

What­ever its ori­gins, and how­ever the best way to cook it, shak­shuka, which means “all mixed up” in He­brew, is healthy, nu­tri­tious, re­put­edly a fine cure for a hang­over and has be­come a firm sta­ple of the Is­raeli diet.

Al­though it can be said to be an ac­quired taste, it chal­lenges hum­mus and falafel as a na­tional favourite — par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the win­ter months.

De­spite be­ing part of the culi­nary folk­lore of Is­rael, most food his­to­ri­ans be­lieve that the deep, nour­ish­ing mix of eggs, tomato, gar­lic, spices and olive oil, cooked and served up in a cast iron pan with a large hunk of hot bread to mop up the juice, has its ori­gins else­where.

Some be­lieve it was first known as Chak­chouka, a Ber­ber word mean­ing a veg­etable ragout, and that it orig­i­nated in Morocco.

Oth­ers say the first ver­sion ap­peared in Turkey dur­ing the days of the Ot­toman Em­pire, from whence it spread through­out the Mid­dle East and to Spain, where it is still en­joyed, of­ten with spicy sausage.

An­other be­lief is that it hails from the Ye­men where it is served with a dol­lop of zhoug, a fiery, green paste that brings tears to the eyes.

Is­raelis have also joined the de­bate. Those of Moroc­can de­scent in­sist that it is an es­sen­tial part of their culi­nary her­itage.

Libyan Jews ar­gue that it orig­i­nated in Tripoli and even Ashke­nazi Is­raelis claim that their bub­bas made fan­tas­tic shak­shuka (al­though they could be mix­ing it up with tales of cholents past).

Iron­i­cally no sin­gle recipe is ab­so­lutely au­then­tic. The egg ver­sion of the dish prob­a­bly ar­rived in Is­rael with Jewish refugees from all over the Mid­dle East, each with their own cook­ing “ac­cent”.

What­ever type of shak­shuka Is­raelis favour, they flock to a restau­rant amid the bustling flea mar­ket in Jaffa where the cooks serve what is thought to be the best in town.

Dr Shak­shuka, a restau­rant owned by a Libyan Jewish fam­ily, makes a fa­mously de­li­cious and faith­ful ren­di­tion of shak­shuka in a truly Mid­dle East­ern at­mos­phere. It has all the spicy, fiery and fill­ing qual­i­ties of the dish, says an en­thu­si­ast, and Is­raelis for­get their ar­gu­ments about culi­nary au­then­tic­ity as they tuck in amid the bub­bling skil­lets.

There are many recipes for shak­shuka. How­ever, this is a good ba­sic starter to which you can add whichever herbs and veg­eta­bles you wish.

The mix of tomato, gar­lic, herbs and spices, tra­di­tion­ally topped with egg, is re­put­edly a fine hang­over cure

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