Three of my favourite cookbooks feature a recipe called Shakshuka, an exotic sounding dish that I was very much looking forward to trying out. According to Yotam Ottolenghi in his Jerusalem cookbook, this one pot wonder originated in North Africa, and is also eaten throughout Israel. As described in the beautifully photographed publication, Monday Morning Cooking Club, Shakshouka (spelt in this form) is a popular and easy family meal served up in Jewish families the day after Shabbat, when kitchen supplies are low following their traditional weekly family feast.  

Although the three recipes I found vary slightly in the types of tomatoes used (fresh or tinned) and the variety and quantity of spices (dried or fresh chillies, harissa or cumin), the foundations of the dish remain the same. It is essentially a tomato based sauce with a bit of kick, thanks to the addition of cumin, chilli, capsicum and sweet paprika, into which eggs are gently poached. This aromatic and protein rich meal is then scooped into bowls and served up with bread. 

I too have played with the recipe, creating my own version of Shakshuka, based on what I had in my fridge and pantry stores. I also tucked steamed rice into bowls before ladling over the eggs and sauce, simply to add a little carbohydrate and because my littlest ones adore rice.   

As for the ideal time of day to serve up this delicious dish? Karen Martini includes a mouth watering shot in the breakfast section of her cookbook Home, as the sauce can be made a day or two prior. It is also an idea brunch, light lunch or dinner dish, perfect to serve up when you’ve enjoyed a substantial lunch but still need to satisfy that little gap in the appetite as the sun goes down. Actually it’s children who usually insist on asking “What’s for dinner?” even after wolfing down an enormous weekend lunch. I’m constantly amazed at just how much food juniors can ingest and still have room for seconds and/or dessert. 

Everyone in my family gave this dish the thumbs up, even my 17month old baby Maksim – ok so he didn’t actually put his thumbs up because he was licking the sauce off his hands, but he was happy and left an empty bowl behind! 

My Shakshuka to serve 6 – 8 people

Olive oil
50 g unsalted butter
1 Spanish onion
3 fat cloves garlic
200 grams mushrooms – whatever variety is available
1 medium zucchini
1 red capsicum
sea salt
1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 long green chillies, seeds removed
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional) I left this out because of the baby, but you can offer it on the side. 
1 kg fresh ripe red tomatoes 
1 x 700 ml bottle of tomato passata
1 teaspoon sugar
handful mint leaves and coriander leaves roughly chopped
8 large eggs, preferably organic or at least free-range

Chop up the onion, garlic, mushrooms, zucchini, capsicum in a food processor or dice very finely using a sharp knife. Sauté over a low heat, in a large wide pot, with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, butter and 1 heaped teaspoon of sea salt. This should take about 10 minutes. 

In the meantime, score the bottom of each tomato with a sharp knife, place in a glass bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for five minutes before pouring out the water and peeling away the tomato skins. Remove the central hard core and chop up roughly. Place in the pot with the sautéed ingredients. Add the cumin, sweet paprika and green chillies (and dried chilli if using this) and cook for another 10 minutes over a low heat.

Add the chopped fresh tomatoes, passata and sugar. Bring briefly to the boil, then turn down to the lowest heat available and simmer for 1 hour. I also added 3/4 cup of water to prevent the sauce from becoming too thick and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir a couple times during the simmering hour. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. 

Once the sauce is ready, gently crack 8 eggs onto the surface of the sauce. Cover with a lid and poach for 5 minutes or until the whites are just set. I left the lid on just a tad too long because I was tinkering with dishwasher that had just broken down and lost track of time, so my yolks were not quite as runny as I would have liked. Keep an eye on the eggs. 

Sprinkle with fresh mint and coriander leaves before serving.