Hangovers and Origin Stories
Shashuka is a famous Israeli hangover food. While I haven’t tested its virtues as a hangover elixer personally, I’m certainly not going to argue against it. I don’t doubt for a minute that all of that protein and fat and spicy pepper and zesty tomato isn’t just what the doctor ordered when you’re all dehydrated and groggy with the bottle flu. If it’s a hot, fiery shakshuka, all the better in my view.
And while I’ve never been to Israel, I’ve also read that in Tel Aviv there is hardly a restaurant that doesn’t serve its own version of shakshuka. It’s something of a national obsession. So naturally a lot of people consider shakshuka to be an Israeli dish. However, most food historians seem to agree that shakshuka is actually a North African dish, hailing from places like Tunisia, Lybia, Morocco, and Algeria. As the story goes, it likely made it’s way to Israel via a sort of reverse diaspora. Tunisian Jews moving to Israel brought their delightful spicy egg dish along with them. And Libyan and Moroccan Jews probably did so as well. Perhaps that explains the spicy hot peppers you find in many versions of the dish.
That’s one origin story. Here is another: shakshuka comes from the Ottoman Empire and was spread throughout Spain and the Middle East. When you consider that there is a Turkish dish–Menamen–which is strikingly similar to shakshuka, this story certainly sounds plausible as well. In fact, infamous culinary pseudo-historian yours truly (that would be me) noted a few months back in his Spanish pisto manchego recipe, that this tomato and eggplant dish is often served with an egg baked on top, like shakshuka. There is certainly what appears to be a family resemblance.
I’m not sure what origin story is true, but I tend to believe the story about Tunisian Jews and reverse diaspora for some reason.
Fiery Shakshuka and the Double Dog Dare
There are as many shakshuka recipes as there are people with hangovers on any given weekend, which is a lot. I stole liberally from David Lebowitz, who’s life I also want to steal, and who’s recipe also apparently steals liberally from my personal Mediterranean culinary hero, Yotam Ottolenghi occasioned by David’s eating at NOPI on a trip to London. The caraway. The turmeric.
What distinguishes my version is I turned the hot peppers up to eleven. I used several jalapenos and a habanero, seeds and and all. If you don’t like things that are stupid hot, you can ratchet back on the peppers, but I must say, a blazing caldron of molten hot fiery shakshuka is a pretty amazing thing. That is if you can handle it. I double dog dare you to try.
If you have tiny skillets I think it’s kind of fun to make single serving skillets to serve from. If you don’t you can just crack a lot of eggs into a big-ass skillet of the sauce. But let me make one final point about this. You can make the sauce ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator. Then there it is. You have it. Then in the morning when you’re wondering what to make for breakfast it occurs to you: “oh yeah, I have that fiery shakshuka sauce!” And you dole out a bit and crack an egg in there and heat it in the oven, or covered on the range top, and you’re in business. That’s a beautiful thing. Just knowing at you have fiery shakshuka sauce in the fridge gives you an edge in life, a confidence you otherwise wouldn’t have. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to say that having fiery shakshuka sauce in the fridge makes you a total ass-kicker. Trust me on this. I’m a professional.
- 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Large Onion, diced
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 5 Cloves Garlic, minced
- 2 Jalapeno Peppers, finely chopped
- 1 Habanero Pepper, finely chopped
- 1 Roasted Red Bell Pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Thyme
- 1 Teaspoon Caraway Seeds, Ground
- ½ Teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
- ½ Teaspoon Dried Turmeric
- ½ Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Large Can of Whole Tomatoes
- 1 Small Can of Tomato Paste
- 4 Eggs
- ¾ Cup Crumbled Feta Cheese
- ¼ Cup Fresh Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
- A few tablespoons of Dukkah to taste
- First, you can buy roasted red peppers, but I made my own. Just torch it on a gas stove or with an actual propane torch until the skin is black. Then put it in a bag to steam. Then peel off the skin.
- Heat the olive oil in a large lidded pot. Saute the onion with the salt until it’s tender. Add the garlic, peppers, and spices. Continue to saute until the garlic is cooked and fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer on low heat, covered, for another 15 minutes. This can be made ahead of time and stored for up to a week, and used to make individual servings throughout the week.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). I like to make individual servings in very small skillets, but you can put the works in a giant skillet if you like. The recipe makes four servings with one egg per serving. If you want more protein you can double up on the eggs if you like.
- Place ⅙ of the sauce into the skillet and heat on the stove top over low heat until the sauce comes to a simmer. Then remove it from the heat.
- Make a small indentation in the center of the sauce, and crack an egg into the indentation. Sprinkle a tablespoon of feta over the top.
- Place the skillet with egg into the oven and bake until the egg is set, about five minutes.
- Remove the skillet and garnish with parsley, and dukkah.