In 1930, Simon Agranat, the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, wrote to his aunt and uncle in Chicago: “I had my eighth successive egg meal during my three-day journey through the Emek (the valley).”
Eggs have always been a main protein for people in Israel. When I lived in Jerusalem, I would make for my breakfast — or even for dinner — scrambled eggs with sauteed spring onions, fresh herbs, and dollops of cream cheese melted into the eggs as they were cooking. Probably the most popular egg dish in Israel is shakshuka, one of those onomatopoeic Hebrew and North African words, meaning “all mixed up.” The most famous rendition of this tomato dish, which is sometimes mixed with meat but more often made in Israel with scrambled or poached eggs, is served at the Tripolitana Doktor Shakshuka Restaurant in old Jaffa.
Doktor Shakshuka, owned by a large Libyan family, is located near the antique market in an old stone-arched building with colorful Arab-tiled floors. “When I was a young girl at the age of 10 I liked to cook,” said Sarah Gambsor, the main cook of the restaurant and wife of one of the owners. “My mother told me that I should marry someone who has a restaurant.” And she did just that.
Mrs. Gambsor, a large woman who clearly enjoys eating what she cooks, demonstrated that the dish starts with a heavy frying pan and tomato sauce. Then eggs are carefully broken in and left to set or, if the diner prefers, scrambled in as they cook. The shakshuka is then served in the frying pan at the table.
Reprinted with permission from The Foods of Israel Today (Knopf).
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1 cup cubed tofu or feta (optional)
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, roughly diced
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 lbs fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and cut in quarters, or one 28 oz can t
Place the tomatoes, garlic, salt, paprika, tomato paste, and vegetable oil in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, over low heat until thick, for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Ladle the tomato sauce into a greased 12″ frying pan. Bring to a simmer and break the eggs over the tomatoes. Gently break the yolks with a fork. If adding feta, tofu, and parsley, sprinkle them on top. Cover and continue to cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the eggs are set. Bring the frying pan directly to the table. Set it on a trivet and spoon out the shakshuka.