What’s the star ingredient in shakshuka, the beloved north African skillet dish that simmers sunny side up eggs in a thick, peppery tomato sauce? Depends who you ask. For those who treat shakshuka as the ultimate everything-but-the-kitchen-sink concoction (adding leafy greens, halloumi cheese, and Indian curry powder), the core component remains the same, no matter how you poach it: eggs.
But the sauce is the thing for plant-based diners in the self-proclaimed vegan capital of the world, Tel Aviv, where shakshuka is the flagship breakfast item on most restaurant menus. (Sauce, and the bread you soak it up with.) Almost every café and restaurant serving breakfast in the city has taken note, preparing a proprietary vegan shakshuka option.
Café Puaa, a combination eatery and antique store in Jaffa’s flea market, makes shakshuka with round vegetable dumplings; in south Tel Aviv’s Neve Tsedek neighborhood, Meshek Barzilay serves shakshuka with tofu in a roasted red pepper and tomato sauce; Anastasia, a popular vegan spot in north Tel Aviv, plays up the white-yellow hues of eggs with its substitute: a tofu-polenta blend.
“When veganism began gaining momentum in Israel, around six years ago, breakfast was one of the categories that needed to be seriously addressed because it was always based on eggs and cheeses,” explains Ori Shavit, a longtime Tel Aviv-based food journalist who went vegan in 2011 and has since become a vocal plant-based foodie on her website, Vegans On Top. “It was very easy to [veganize shakshuka] because ultimately the sauce is the same sauce and the experience is the same experience – a piping hot skillet with spicy tomato sauce that can be sopped up with fresh bread or challah. Even without eggs, this dish is always fun to eat and very satisfying, and the ease with which a kitchen could transform shakshuka with eggs to vegan shakshuka made it an immediate hit.”
For proof that the trend is widespread, one need look no further than the beloved Dr. Shakshuka – an almost 30-year-old establishment in Jaffa devoted to the dish. “What could be more mainstream than that?” Shavit quips. The good doctor’s vegan version includes mushrooms, eggplant, and comes with a side of pickles.
As for how Shavit eats her shakshuka at home, she favors poaching raw creamed corn that resembles scrambled eggs. Below is her tried and tested recipe:
Sweet Corn Shakshuka
Ingredients (serves 3-4):
6 fresh ears of corn
3-4 small ripe tomatoes (cubed, together with the seeds and juice)
2-3 handfuls of halved cherry tomatoes
6-8 stalks of scallions, diced
1 chili pepper, diced (optional)
Smoked paprika (optional)
Kosher salt (or raw sea salt)
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the corn cream: hold shucked ears of corn upright over a cutting board and use a sharp knife to slit each row of kernels lengthwise, along the center. After all rows have been sliced open, use the dull side of the knife to press the kernels and liquid out from top to bottom. (This leaves the shells mostly on the cob and releases their soft insides for the shakshuka, but it’s okay if some shells make their way into the dish.) Do this for all the ears of corn, and gather the creamy mixture in a bowl. Set aside.
Heat some olive oil in a pan and saute the scallions and chili for 2-3 minutes. Add all the tomatoes and continue sautéing for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften.
Season with sweet paprika, spicy paprika, and (if you like) smoked paprika. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Create wells in the tomato sauce, and spoon the creamed corn mixture into them. Let cook for 1-2 minutes to heat up and absorb the flavors of the sauce.
Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve immediately (ideally with some good bread to soak up the sauce).