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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Shakshuka: The Breakfast of Kings

The bright azure and gentle waves of the Mediterranean beckon from beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows but there is a more tempting challenge from where a visitor stands: to navigate the breakfast buffet of the Sheraton Tel Aviv.

The gastronomic extravaganza is endless. Freshly baked loaves of bread with butter and preserves, flaky sweet pastries and sesame seed coated bourekas. Smoked whitefish, lox and cured herring. Exquisitely salty and creamy white T’zfatit and Bulgarit (feta-type) cheeses, thinly sliced yellow cheeses and pungent blue-veined cheeses. Yogurts and labneh and those little Dani chocolate and vanilla pudding cups that make you feel like a kid again.

There are mounds of oranges and apples, bowls of aromatic dewy green melon, cantaloupe and sweet, juicy watermelon, as well as dried fruits, nuts and seeds. There are grilled eggplants, fried potatoes and stewed tomatoes and an immense array of cucumbers, peppers, radishes, cherry tomatoes and greens, as well as eggs, any way you please.

One of the most pleasurable and memorable experiences of any Israeli vacation is breakfast. Whether you’re eating among the Jerusalem stone-and-mosaic tiles in the Spanish courtyard  of the Sephardic Educational Center in the Old City or taking in the Jerusalem hills from the veranda of Cafe Rimon at the Mamilla Mall. Whether you’re people watching from Aroma on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv or at the Baghdad Cafe overlooking the green hills of Sefad or at a little cafe on the shores of the Kinneret, your morning repast is sure to be delicious.

Born in the communal dining halls of the kibbutzim in the early years of the last century, the Israeli breakfast has been described as Israel’s culinary gift to the world. While the huge hotel breakfasts are an occasional treat, the more typical serving of salad, cheese and eggs is a great nutritional start to the day. They are a far cry from the sugary cereals, bagels and doughnuts that rushed Americans grab on their way to work.

The undisputed star of the Israeli breakfast is shakshuka. In the Berber languages, shakshuka means “mixture,” which is reflected in this dish of eggs poached in a bright red pepper and tomato sauce with lots of onion, garlic and spices thrown in for good measure. A simple, rustic dish served in a little iron skillet, the humble shakshuka was brought to Israel by immigrants from the North African countries of Tunisia and Libya.

When the sprawling restaurant Doctor Shakshuka opened in the early 1990s, near the Jaffa Clock Tower and the Shuk Ha’Pishpashim (Jaffa flea market), shakshuka became ultra-popular in Israel and catapulted its Libyan chef/owner, Bino Gabso, to international fame. It has become ubiquitous on menus in Israel and has achieved iconic status worldwide.

Besides, the original red shakshuka, Israeli chefs serve it green (with spinach and other fresh herbs), with mushrooms, with Yemenite spice blend hawaiij and even with hummus, called humshuka.

We cooked a yellow shakshuka featuring bright orange and yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and a blend of turmeric, cumin, allspice and sweet paprika. If you feel like extra heat, add hot pepper flakes, s’chug or Cholula hot sauce. Although Israel has shut her borders till late July, you can still indulge in an Israeli breakfast with our super-easy shakshuka. Just make sure you have fresh bread to sop up all that delicious sauce.

YELLOW SHAKSHUKA
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 orange bell pepper, sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk
1/2 cup water
8 large eggs

In large frying pan, heat oil and sauté onions till golden. Add garlic, tomatoes and peppers and sauté until peppers are soft. Add spices, coconut milk and water, stir well until sauce is thick. For each egg, create a well in sauce, crack egg into glass, then gently slip into pan.

Cover pan and cook on low heat until egg whites are set but yolks are still runny.


Rachel Sheff’s family roots are Spanish Moroccan. Sharon Gomperts’ family hails from Baghdad and El Azair in Iraq. Known as the Sephardic Spice Girls, they have collaborated on the Sephardic Educational Center’s projects and community cooking classes. Join them on Instagram at SephardicSpiceGirls, or on Facebook group SEC food. 

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