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‘The Weekly Veg’: Shakshuka

Shakshuka, shown above, is a North African tomato and egg dish that can be made in one pan.
Shakshuka, shown above, is a North African tomato and egg dish that can be made in one pan.

After a few weeks of break, welcome back to 'The Weekly Veg!' It will run all summer every one or two weeks, with seven new recipes tested and reviewed by food editor Ames Radwan.

As someone with Italian heritage, when I say I bleed red, I mean that tomato sauce runs through my veins. To say that I love tomato-based foods is an understatement. I once had acid reflux in middle school and couldn’t eat tomatoes for weeks, and I cried about it a little too often.

Luckily, I am able to eat them now, and eat them I do. So when I read about shakshuka in my quest for the next ‘Weekly Veg’ recipe, I knew I had to try it.

Shakshuka is one of those meals that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a late-night snack if you so please, though I don’t think it would work for dessert. Originating from North Africa, this vegetarian meal consists of a chunky tomato-and-pepper sauce, known as “matbucha,” with baked eggs on top. It’s one-pan, spicy and, according to the internet, delicious.

The recipe I found from Mediterranean cuisine blog “Tori Avey” was simple and basic — perfect for a college student.

Though it claimed to take 40 minutes, I found it took closer to 30, and since it mostly just consists of putting ingredients in a pan and letting them cook, it’s a pretty simple recipe for one with a lot of ingredients (most of which are spices, like cumin, paprika and chili powder). 

Another fantastic thing about this recipe is that it is very flexible, and you can change it to fit your own tastes. If you prefer a bit of a sweeter shakshuka, you can add more than the called-for one pinch of sugar. If you’re a fan of spicy food, throw in some more cayenne. Add feta cheese for a tangy, cheesy taste, and cook your eggs any way from sunny-side to scrambled — the recipe covers all possible changes and easily details how to make shakshuka the way you’ll like. 

Personally, for instance, I like my yolks runny, so I took Avey’s suggestion of letting the sauce reduce for a few minutes extra before adding my eggs to the top, and it worked.

Finally, this recipe is cheap and makes very few vegetable- and protein-based ingredients feel like a hearty meal. You only need two cans of diced tomatoes, half an onion, one red bell pepper and six eggs. The rest are all spices.

I only made one change to this recipe and, as usual, it was out of necessity rather than choice. The pan I ended up using was bigger than any of the lids I had around the house, so I had to cover the pan in aluminum foil and check if my eggs were cooked by lifting up a corner. It added a bit of stress on my part, but didn’t change much else.

Other than that, no other problems arose from this recipe! It looks like a complicated, fancy dish, but it’s actually really easy. This is definitely one to make to impress your friends.

I promise it will impress them because I can confirm it is delicious.

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Hearty, warm and spicy without being too hot, the matbucha paired perfectly with runny eggs, the fresh cilantro on top and a sprinkle of salt. Avey recommends pairing this dish with crusty bread or a side salad, and I chose the former, pulling some biscuits out of my freezer and toasting them up to dip in the runny yolks and tomato sauce. 

If you are a big fan of tomato-based recipes, like marinara sauce, tomato salad or bruschetta, this is the recipe for you. I will admit that I think it could use a little more of the spices because the tomato taste was almost too overwhelming; it was close to drowning out the rich flavors of the Mediterranean, but as someone who likes tomatoes, that wasn’t a bad deal. 

I ate this dish with my parents, and they had very different points of view, but agreed they both liked it in the end. 

My mom — who doesn’t like red peppers, but has always wanted to try shakshuka — gave it a 9/10 because she could taste the red peppers prominently, and she dislikes them. As someone who enjoys red peppers, I didn’t think the taste was overpowering at all, so take that as you will. 

My dad, on the other hand, can’t eat eggs, so he just tried the matbucha. During the early parts of the cooking process, he commented that with onions and garlic sizzling in the pan, he was already sold on the dish; later, he gave the best compliment he ever gives as he dipped his biscuit in for a second bite: “It’s pretty good.”

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish throughout both the cooking and eating processes. It’s filling but not heavy, flavorful but not spicy and complex but not difficult. It does make a lot of food, so I would recommend making the matbucha and then cooking individually sized portions with just one egg at a time, since cooked eggs don’t tend to make for great leftovers — but this is definitely one I will be making again.

Rating: 9/10

Have a recipe you’d like to see on The Weekly Veg? Email it to me and I’ll be happy to test and rate it.