I forgot how lovely it is to whip up savory dishes that don’t require the meticulous details of cakes and pastries. It’s a nice reprieve to be able to throw a pinch here, a dollop there, and not be worried that the whole dish will be ruined. So when my mom requested shakshuka as her Mother’s Day treat, I was happy to oblige.
Shakshuka is a bubbling cauldron of spicy tomato sauce studded with salty feta cheese and poached eggs. It’s a Middle Eastern dish that can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and is great to make for a crowd. My sister used to make an Italian version of the same dish, with leftover tomato sauce and pecorino romano grated on top, and I remember having similar baked egg dishes in Spain with spicy chorizo and Manchego. Versatile and convenient, keep this recipe in your arsenal and modify to suit what you have in the cabinet.
I added a batch of homemade pita bread to make this breakfast extra special. It was the perfect accompaniment to lap up the extra tomato sauce, though you could easily serve over rice or couscous. I started the morning by making the pita bread dough, then let the dough rise as I started to put together the sauce. By the time the sauce was ready, I could roll out the pita bread and pan fry (you can also bake them) as the eggs started to cook. Everything came together beautifully, and my mom was thrilled to be treated to such a lovely spread. Plus there were leftovers to have for breakfast the next day, so I considered it a delicious success.
Homemade Pita Bread (adapted from theKitchn)
1 cup warm water
1 packet (1/4 oz.) active dry or instant yeast
2 1/2 – 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1-2 teaspoons olive oil (optional)
In a measuring cup, mix warm water and yeast and let sit for five minutes. In a large bowl add 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, salt, and olive oil. Once the yeast mixture has dissolved, add to the bowl and mix until a shaggy dough forms.
Take the remaining 1/2 cup of flour and sprinkle some on the counter to prevent the dough from sticking. Turn the dough out on the counter and begin kneading. If the dough gets too sticky, add some extra flour, but don’t overdo it. Knead the dough 5-7 minutes, until it becomes elastic and smooth. (In the future, I might use a Kitchen Aid with the dough hook).
Rub the ball of dough with olive oil (to prevent a crust from forming) and place in a large bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for 1-2 hours and begin to make the tomato sauce for the shakshuka. Once the dough has doubled in volume, remove and cut into eight even pieces. Form each piece into a ball and using a rolling pin, roll out into a 8-9 inch circle. I found it easiest to roll each piece out until it started to spring back, let it rest, and come back to finish each one.
Heat a large cast iron skillet with a small amount of olive oil (just to prevent sticking) on medium-high heat. One at a time, cook each pita for 1-2 minutes on each side until it bubbles and browns. Alternatively, you can cook in a 450° F oven for about three minutes on a baking sheet or baking stone. I cooked each in a cast iron skillet and kept them warm in the oven on a low temp (175° F ).
Shakshuka (modified from Dave Lebovitz)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (more to taste)
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. crushed caraway seeds
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 14 oz. cans of diced or crushed tomatoes
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 cup chopped spinach (or other greems)
4 ounces crumbled feta
4 to 6 eggs
In a large saucepan, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add diced onions and salt and let cook for five to ten minutes until the onions have become translucent. Add the garlic and bell pepper and cook for another five minutes to soften the bell pepper. Stir in all the spices for a few minutes, until aromatic. Mix tomato paste into the pan to ensure there aren’t any lumps, and then add cans of tomatoes, cider vinegar, and honey. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the mixture thickens. Stir in chopped spinach until it wilts and then sprinkle crumbled feta on top. Turn the heat to low and make 6 indentations with the back of a spoon and crack in the eggs. Carefully swirl the egg whites into the tomato sauce, being careful not to break the yolks. Keeping the mixture at a simmer, cover and cook for approximately ten minutes until the eggs have cooked through but the yolks are still soft. Enjoy with lots of homemade pita bread!