Dr. Shakshuka and his wonderful jalapeno
Today, I will share you a recipe with you. But you already know me: everything comes with a story, and so do my recipes.
The recipe is for shakshuka, the hearty, irresistible Israeli dish made with ripe tomatoes, eggs, sweet paprika, garlic, and spicy chili peppers. Shakshuka is typically devoured while it is still in the cooking pan, scooped up with thick slices of bread. The story is about Dr. Shakshuka.
Dr. Shakshuka is not a doctor, nor is his last name Shakshuka. Yet, everyone calls him Dr. Shakshuka. His real name is Bino Gabso.
Israelis recognize Bino from his short televised restaurant reviews that are published, from time to time, on the web-edition of Yediot Aharonot, the national daily Israeli newspaper. In these videos, Bino is riding his Vespa scooter along the streets of Jaffa and Tel Aviv in search of yet another restaurant. He skips the hip and trendy chefs who fuse the Mediterranean cuisine with the French, and avoids anything pretentious, and anyone who is too eager to impress.
Instead, he frequents street vendors and owners of tiny restaurants, some of whom he has known for years — cooks who feed the crowds with cheap, whole meals served in a pita bread. His videos are thus called Bino in a Pita.
Bino arrives at these eateries hungry and well-prepared, carrying in his pocket a fresh jalapeño pepper. In case of emergency, when his food isn’t spicy enough, Bino devours his jalapeno pepper for extra spice.
Bino is a short, stout man, who has emotions. In several of Bino’s videos, you can see him crying, out of pleasure, with tears rolling down his cheeks, as he bites into a pita stuffed with the local favorites: falafel, hummus, shawarma, or skewered chicken, or lamb grilled over charcoals, and served with tahini sauce (a sauce made of sesame) and Harif (spice), or Harrisa (hot chili peppers paste) on top.
In one memorable video, Bino seems sad and disappointed: “people tell me that I am too fat, that I look like a hippopotamus, so I am on a diet now; look at me,” he says, “I am eating only half a pita, not a whole one, and I did lose some weight. Can’t you tell?” He says all that to the camera, and I feel that his words come not just with pride, but with regret too, for, after all, who wants to eat only half a pita? Not Bino.
Bino finds joy in cooking, and more so in feeding others. He was born in Jaffa, Israel, to parents of Libyan origin. His father was a restaurant owner. At age 11, Bino stopped going to school. Instead, he started working, and then managing his father’s restaurant. His shakshuka breakthrough came about during a year he spent in prison (he was convicted of illegal foreign-currency dealings).
In prison, Bino was assigned to the kitchen where he was making shakshuka in large quantities for his fellow prisoners. The recipe for shakshuka originated in North Africa. It is popular in North Africa, and in the Middle East. This dish has been known for generations. But Bino, through trial (and no error), and repetition, perfected it. The prisoners, and whoever tasted Bino’s shakshuka after he was released from prison, just loved it. The word spread out quickly, and Bino became the King of Shakshuka, also known as Dr. Shakshuka.
Here is the recipe:
4 large, ripe tomatoes, each cut into 8 pieces (leave the skin on)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, sliced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbs of paprika
1 tsp of salt
2 tbs parsley, chopped (whole leaves, discard stems)
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the jalapeno pepper and cook for about 3-5 minutes until it becomes soft and its skin blisters. Add the garlic and let it cook in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle the salt. Cover the pan. Cook until the tomatoes are very soft, and the concoction turns into a sauce (about 30 minutes). Stir occasionally. Use tongs to remove the tomatoes’ skin. Add the paprika and stir the sauce (this will give the sauce bright, intense red color). Taste the sauce and add salt to taste.
Break the eggs shells, and carefully drop the eggs (trying not to break the yolks), one at a time, on top of the sauce so they are evenly spread in the pan, away from each other. Cover the pan with a lid, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Lift the lid, and use the handle of a wooden spoon, in a round circular movement, to break the egg whites into the tomato sauce while trying to keep the egg yolks whole. Cover and cook for 1-3 more minutes. The ideal result would be fully cooked egg whites, with runny yolks at their centers.
Garnish with fresh, chopped parsley, and serve the dish in the pan. You can eat shakshuka with a spoon, if you want, but for a more authentic experience, try to use thick, hand-torn, pieces of white bread to scoop up its deliciousness.
Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist working in several locations in the Upper Peninsula. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at DrMadjar.com.