Walking into Liza Borenstein’s Youngsville home, I noticed she had an assortment of colorful ingredients on her countertop, prepared and waiting to be transformed into something special. The Borensteins moved to Louisiana a year ago from Tel Aviv.
We chatted as she provided some background on the origins of shakshuka (pronounced shack-shoo-kuh). What awaited us is a traditional breakfast or brunch in the Middle East, with some influences from the Mediterranean.
The literal translation of shakshuka means “all mixed up.” The dish is made with poached eggs as the centerpiece but begins with the creation of a delicious sauce of finely diced tomatoes, onions and bell peppers. Customarily, a variety of spices are used to season the sauce. Borenstein adds spices by the feel, and her family enjoys this dish with a kick.
For many in Tel Aviv, Saturday is a day of rest.
“Shakshuka is a Saturday morning ritual in their homes for breakfast or brunch,” Borenstein said.
At home in Youngsville, shakshuka is how the Borensteins welcome the weekend together as a family, though the children are not yet keen on the dish. It is loaded with fresh veggies and eggs — a nutritious meal and an excellent vegetarian alternative for breakfasts typically laden with meat.
After sharing the history and tradition behind the dish, Borenstein went to work, with her husband, Guy, nearby to offer assistance. Children’s laughter filled the background as she prepared the shakshuka and fresh pita bread. She graciously invited my kids to join in the experience, and they had fun while we cooked.
“This recipe is about personal choice. It can be made as spicy or sweet as you like,” she said.
She mostly added spices by the feel but has made it so many times that she could gauge a measurement.
As Borenstein prepared fresh pita bread, I stirred the bright red mixture with a wooden spoon while it simmered. In shakshuka, a plethora of tomatoes are involved. She substituted cherry tomatoes instead of the using the beefsteak tomatoes the recipe suggests. The incorporation of cherry tomatoes gave the dish a pleasantly surprising textural boost as the seeds revealed themselves in the sauce.
After pausing from the pita bread, she added another spoonful of sugar to the pan.
“I love it when the sauce is sweet,” Borenstein said, as she stirred the sauce around and added water until it was the perfect amount of wet, watery and bubbling.
It was time to add the eggs. She made six small pockets in the sauce to poach the eggs, and seasoned each egg with black pepper.
Borenstein returned to the pita and noticed the pockets didn’t form as she wanted. Despite this, they were perfectly fine for consumption. Traditionally, a pocket develops in the pita’s center to hold all the fillings. Nonetheless, as her husband put it, “pita is used to soak up the sauce and clean the plate.”
His words proved to be true.
Rising steam signaled that the shakshuka was ready. Borenstein placed the pan on a trivet in the center of the table. The table was filled with fresh pita, various raw vegetables, sliced cheeses, cottage cheese and jam — all surrounding the main course.
Once we sat down and served ourselves, I expected it to taste like a bolognese sauce. I was in for a surprise. The first bite awakened my senses with an explosion of flavor — a taste to savor, one that you wish would linger. Borenstein’s husband mentioned that you can “feel the love” within the food.
Shakshuka is a culinary experience you won’t want to miss and should be in everyone’s recipe collection, whether you enjoy international cuisine or not. This easy-to-make dish is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Serves 4 people. Recipe is by Liza Borenstein.
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large white onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 red bell pepper
3-4 beefsteak tomatoes
1-2 Tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
black pepper to taste
chili powder to taste
6 ounce can of tomato paste
cilantro or parsley to garnish
1. Finely chop the onion, garlic, and bell pepper.
2. Warm a skillet over medium heat and add olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and sauté for two minutes.
3. Once the onions are soft and depending on your love of garlic, add the garlic cloves to the pan and sauté.
4. Then add the red bell pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until softened.
5. Add the tomatoes and sauté. Add half of the sugar and another tablespoon of olive oil.
6. Pour ½ cup of water; the sauce should be watery.
7. Add spices (paprika, salt, pepper, chili, garlic). Stir to incorporate them into the mixture.
8. Add a little more olive oil, then taste. You can add more sugar at this point.
9. Add tomato paste, and then stir thoroughly to combine.
10. The ingredients will melt into the mixture. Add more water, then cover.
11. Let the sauce cook for 15 minutes on medium heat.
12. Create six spaces within the sauce and add eggs to be poached. Cook until desired consistency and salt to taste.
13. Once the eggs are cooked, top with cilantro or parsley and serve immediately.
Serves 4 people. Recipe is by Liza Borenstein.
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons of dry yeast
1 spoonful of sugar
1 cup of lukewarm water
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1. In a mixer bowl with a kneading hook, put flour, yeast, sugar, and water and knead for 5 minutes (or knead by hand for 10 minutes).
2. Add salt and oil and knead for another 7 minutes until you get a slightly sticky dough.
3. Cover the bowl and let it rise for an hour until it doubles in volume.
4. Divide the dough into balls, roll them into circles and set aside on baking paper for 5 minutes.
5. In a hot pan (without oil), fry an oiled pita for 2 minutes on each side until lightly browned.
6. Then, cover the pita with a towel to keep it warm.