Shakshuka may look like a well-wish after someone sneezes, but it doesn’t mean “Zay Gezunt”. Far from it, it means a mixture of things tossed together. As such, it’s a North African dish, sometimes spelled the Frenchy way as Shakshouka. Shakshuka seems to be one of those recipes that are based on a small number of key ingredients, but the execution differs slightly from region to region and even from family to family. According to Wiki, the dish originated in Tunisia – or possibly the Ottoman Empire, or possibly Yemen. We do know that it is a popular dish all across the Arab world and especially in Israel. It may be served either as breakfast or as dinner, often with bread to sop up the juices.
My cousin Andreas recently published a shakshuka recipe on Facebook that he gleaned from the Student Nutrition Association of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA, USA, published in 2016. The recipe had been adopted by Alyssa Siegel and it looked nice and easy. Andreas’ maternal grandfather was Tunisian so it would be very special to think his grandpa dipped his chunk of bread in a shakshuka that his mother prepared. On the other hand, his grandfather grew up quite privileged so his mom may not have cooked the family shakshuka herself ☺️
Either way, I cooked my version last Sunday. I do have to say ‘my version’ because I omitted the main protein providing ingredient, the eggs. Instead, I prepared a duck breast we happened to have in the fridge. Therefore, my Shakshuka was more a Shakshoucanard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any cayenne pepper in the house, so I substituted the cayenne with piment d’Espelelette, the Basque chili pepper used in the South of France. And to addle things even further, I added garlic, lemon juice, and coriander seeds to the list of flavorings. My lineup of ingredients looked like this:
- 2 medium onion, halved then sliced very thinly
- 3 very large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed & diced
- 1 large red sweet pepper, seeds & white ribs removed, sliced
- a heap of spinach, stalks & mid-ribs removed, torn into pieces, washed, spin-dried
- juice of 1 small lemon
cooked separately: 1 boneless duck breast with skin, 410 g or 14.5 oz
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 400 g/14 oz [drained net weight] of canned, peeled whole tomatoes, juices reserved
- 2 tsp honey
- ‘Maille’ Velours Balsamique, a very thick balsamic vinegar syrup
- Confit d’oignons [onion jam]
- salt to taste
- 1 heaped teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
- 1 heaped teaspoon crushed cumin seeds
- 1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika powder
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered piment d’Espelette chili pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
After slicing, dicing, draining and washing my ingredients, I had to dash to the window for a quick shot across the river because it was the last evening of the season with twinkling Christmas lights and the early evening atmosphere was altogether too eerie to pass up.
Back in the kitchen, it was time to gently toast the coriander and the cumin seeds in a dry pan to release their aromas.
Coriander develops a warm, citrusy bouquet, while cumin adds a darker, more earthy scent. Once you can smell the heated seeds, add the oil to create a fragrant bath,
not for the enjoyment of the Queen of Sheba, but in which to sauté the onions.
Sautéing onions takes patience and very low temperatures, lest they burn. The same wisdom applies to garlic, added next.
Followed by the red peppers.
This melange should be slightly softened before the distribution of aromatic powders, the paprika, piment d’Espelette, the cinnamon, and some salt.
After the spices have had a chance to heat up and distribute their flavors through the vegetables, it’s time to let the tomatoes join the fun.
Whilst these guys got to know each other, I had the leisure to crisp the scored duck skin at a low-medium setting in a dry pan. The rendered fat was collected into a small jar for other uses.
Now the spinach needed to be added to the shakshoucanard, to wilt quietly while the duck breast browned in the oven.
Just before serving, I added the juice of half a small lemon to the stew and had more lemon juice at the table, together with the confit d’oignons and the balsamic velours.
- Buy cayenne pepper! The shakshoucanard was not spicy enough. I actually had harissa paste in the fridge but didn’t think of it at the time. This mild version was a tasty companion for the duck, however, I would prefer a lot more oomph preparing it with eggs, as it is intended.
- Make at least twice the amount listed. We had pathetically few leftovers and this dish is perfect to freeze in portions before you add the lemon juice.
Flavorful and tasty, I highly recommend this dish. Thanks, cuz!!