It’s undisputed fact that brunch can cure ailments. A strong lineup of favorites provides a sturdy foundation for hair-of-the-dog gulps of mimosa and bloody marys. If eggs benedict is one of the standbys, then we’ve got a new star player makin’ the rounds each weekend in NYC. Raise a glass of orange juice and bubbly to shakshuka, our new brunch go-to.
The dish is said to have originated in Tunisia and it’s sort of mesmerizing to look at in a skillet. The scarlet sauce bubbles up around each egg, creating a pool of tomato-ey goodness you can dive face-first into. Your hangover melts away with each bite, and with bursts of umami on your tongue, the world becomes right-side-up once again.
One of the best varieties we’ve found in the city? The trifecta takin’ the stage at Mimi’s Hummus down on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn. “Shakshuka is stew of tomatoes made in a cast iron skillet and served with sunny side up eggs,” says owner Mimi Kitani. “For me, it's best when you're in the mood for something fresh and fast and healthy. While traditionally it's made with tomatoes and eggs, really you can use any fresh veggies.”
The term “shakshuka” (also spelled “shakshouka” depending on who you’re askin’) comes from the Arabic word for “a mixture,” a bit of slang that likely comes from Berber ancestry. The Berbers were indigenous to North Africa, along the western side of the Nile Valley, where they ate vegetable stews (called chakchouka) along with staples like couscous and pastilla (savory meat pies.) “It's become a popular Israeli dish and you can get it any time of day there,” Mimi says. “It's fast, easy to make and it's really good.” (We’re sold.) Their menu sports three different types of shakshuka. The Traditional is served Moroccan-style as a thick tomato stew with sunny-side-up eggs topping things off. Then the Green switches things up with braised Swiss chard and Bulgarian feta cheese, while the Shakshuka Merguez adds some heat with spicy lamb sausage. “Just like in Israel you can get it for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Mimi says.
For the classic rendition, she keeps things simple and savory: “We use fresh and canned tomatoes, red pepper, onions. For spices, we use cinnamon and a little cumin.” The result a dish that is rich, thanks to the deep dose of umami embedded in the stewed tomatoes; hearty, with a helping of eggs and bread; and ideal for a long, laid-back brunch. And it really is easy to make. Sautée onions, garlic and peppers. Add in spices, then tomatoes and water. Let it thicken up. Crack a few eggs right into the sauce. Let ‘em sit until the yolks have just set. (You still want that runny goodness!) Sprinkle it with some chopped parsley if you want to impress your brunch-mates, then – boom! You’ve got a savory shakshuka right before your eyes.
As with many veggie-heavy dishes, the best attempt will come from the freshest ingredients. “Make sure that you have good sweet tomatoes,” Mimi says. “I always peel them, and if I can, mix up the varieties. If you use more than one kind of tomato, it really adds to the flavor.” And when it comes to pairing other foods with a fresh skillet of shakshuka, simplicity is still key. Hungry bellies won’t need much more to make this a satisfying meal. “Bread,” Mimi says bluntly, “It doesn't need anything else.”
So what’s her favorite way to whip up? “Personally, I think the best shakshuka is made with greens,” Mimi says. “Spinach, swiss chard, zucchini or any other green you have. It's a lighter option for summer and it's my favorite.” Want to try it for yourself? Head on over to Mimi’s Hummus at 1209 Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, a couple blocks down from the Q train or a quick bike ride down Ocean Parkway.