Some call it ojja, others call it shakshuka, shakshouka, shakshoukeh, jazz-mazz, or makhlama. Here is a dish that appears in the hit parade of Tunisian cuisine.
The basis of shakshuka is simple: tomato, peppers, onion, garlic, spices, all topped with eggs that will be, according to taste, poached, well cooked, or in between. Some bake it in the oven. Others cook it on the stove.
Shakshuka interpretations may vary and for me, today, it will be a shakshuka with merguez!
What does shakshuka (Hebrew: שקשוקה) mean?
The word comes from the Arabic word “mix” and the dish itself probably started like this: a clever mix in a pan or tajine like a lot of dishes where you mix a little bit of everything like a ratatouille, minestrone, or gazpacho, to name a few.
Where does shakshuka come from?
Everyone will try to claim the paternity of this widely popular dish! However, the majority of food historians seem to agree that shakshuka is a North African dish, originating from Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Algeria.
The Tunisian Jews brought with them their deliciously spicy egg dish. And the Algerian, Libyan and Moroccan Jews did it too, but in a less spicy version. This is surely what explains the many versions of this dish in Israel.
Another version of the story says that shakshuka may come from the Ottoman Empire and spread to Spain and the Middle East. This version corroborated by a Turkish dish called menamen, which looks very similar to shakshuka.
The Spanish pisto manchego, a dish of tomatoes and eggplants with eggs on top, just like shakshuka, has a lot of similarities but it is not possible to establish with certainty if this pisto manchego has its origins in Ottoman cuisine or in the cuisines of North Africa.
Sciakisciuka, a dish from the small island of Pantelleria, located between Sicily and Tunisia, is also a perfect example of a recipe that not only looks like shakshuka but also bears a very similar name.
So, ojja or shakshuka? Why two names in Tunisia?
Some Tunisian purists will tell you that ojja is prepared only with garlic and without onion and that shakshuka is prepared with both. And others will tell you that it’s exactly the same thing.
In her book “The new Mediterranean Jewish table: Old world recipes for the modern home”, the author, Joyce Goldstein, suggests that the difference between ojja and shakshuka is that in the ojja, the eggs are mixed with the tomato sauce, while in the shakshuka, they are poached on the surface. This would make ojja the twin of the Turkish dish called menemen.
Shakshuka has become one of the most delicious dishes of traditional Israeli cuisine today, and I would say that it has become a mainstay of this cuisine. It is consumed for breakfast, lunch or dinner and many consider it one of the tastiest dishes.
In Israel, shakshuka has become wildly popular in the last 20 years. There are also several restaurants in the country where you will find shakshuka in all its forms.
This rise is partly thanks to Mr. Bino Gabso, also known as “Dr. Shakshouka”!
Bino Gabso / בינו גבסו (born in 1952) is an Israeli restaurateur known to the public as “Dr. Shakshouka” and owner of the famous restaurant chain of the same name. Gabso is from Tripoli, Libya.
Dr. Shakshuka is an institution in Israel. Bino Gabso started with the Tripolitan version of shakshuka and has been serving it for more than 20 years. In the traditional tripolitan version, there is no onion but just garlic and cumin as only spices.
Yotham Ottolonghi, the famous Israeli-British chef also put shakshuka on the map in the late 2000s.
In Israel, people prepare shakshuka of all kinds. Some add eggplants, or mushrooms, others mix sausages and merguez, or serve it on a bed of hummus, a version of the dish that is very famous in the country, and that is called hmsokh.
There is also the shakshuka with feta which is called “shakshuka of the Balkans”, and is pretty much the same as Bulgarian mish-mash.
The Italians also have their version of the shakshuka. Indeed, in the south of Italy, a dish called “eggs in hell” (uova all’inferno) or “eggs in purgatory” (uova al purgatorio), very similar to shakshuka, is prepared with a spicy tomato sauce seasoned with basil with eggs also placed and cooked on top.
The essential ingredient of the shakshuka is tomato and, of course, I recommend to use fresh ones. It seems that the Tunisians have more appetite when they “see red” on their plate! This explains the presence of tomato and/or tomato paste and harissa on a number of their plates.
The importance of tomatoes in Tunisian cuisine
In Tunisia, tomato cultivation covers an average area of 111 square miles per year, with an average production of about 1.4 million tons.
About 600 000 tons of tomatoes are used for the production of the tomato concentrate and 20 000 tons for the production of canned tomatoes.
As for this famous tomato concentrate or paste, which is used in almost all Tunisian dishes, imagine that every Tunisian consumes … more than 20 lb per year!
Tunisians also prepare a lot of their tomato paste at home.
6 lb of fresh tomatoes are required to obtain 1 lb of double concentrate and 9 lb of fresh tomatoes for the triple concentrate.
I was born in Morocco and Moroccan cuisine also has its shakshuka. We call it tchouktchouka. However, the Moroccan tchouktchouka is prepared without pepper and only with garlic. The tomato sauce is flavored with paprika and in Morocco. usually only a pinch of cumin is placed on each egg yolk. As for the chili pepper, it’s according to your taste. The traditional Moroccan tchouktchouka may be spicy or not.
If the shakshuka was a person, I would say that he or she would be very endearing. You can hardly dislike this dish! And with merguez, it was a treat!
- 6 ripe tomatoes , peeled, seeded and diced
- 1 red bell pepper , peeled, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 green bell pepper , peeled, seeded and cut into strips
- 1 green hot pepper , seeded and finely chopped
- 1 onion , diced
- 8 merguez sausages
- 8 eggs
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 pinches ground caraway
- 1 tablespoon harissa
- ½ cup water
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the olive oil without smoking, and fry the onion for 2 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the garlic, mix well and cook for 3 minutes on low/medium heat, stirring regularly.
- Add the tomatoes, chili pepper, and bell peppers. Add water, spices, harissa, salt and pepper and mix.
- Cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.
- Place the merguez in the tomato mixture, cover and cook for 25 minutes over low/medium heat.
- When the merguez is cooked, break the eggs directly into the pan over the entire surface of the sauce.
- Cover and cook until the egg white is cooked to the desired texture.