Mexican Shakshuka: Connecting to My Mexican and Jewish Identities through Food

August 6, 2019Amanda Ryan

Shakshuka, the North African classic poached egg dish, is a breakfast staple in Jewish and Arab homes all over the world. Full of tomatoes, peppers, eggs, and spices, the dish is like comfort in a cast iron pan. Add some bread, hummus, and Israeli salad, and you have one of the easiest and most delicious meals you’ll ever experience.

However, like many other dishes that are commonly called “Jewish,” shakshuka is influenced by the regional offerings and by the person doing the cooking.

I grew up loving to watch my mother cook dinner. She inspired me to be the baker in the house, using precision in measurement and timing to bake cakes and brownies. As a teenager, I watched daytime cooking shows during summer break, which kindled an interest in how cooking could transform single ingredients into full, vibrant dishes. After years of watching my mother make food ranging from tortillas, fideo, and rice and beans to dishes like lasagna, goulash, and scalloped potatoes, I would mimic the chopping and stirring and produce my own "cooking show" in my parents' kitchen.

My Jewish journey began to intensify at the same time. These journeys converged in celebrating Rosh HaShanah with friends with more traditional Moroccan foods that wouldn’t be found at the synagogue or most other Jewish homes in my city. It was sharing the food and traditions of Sephardic Jews that inspired me to experiment with my Mexican heritage and my Jewish customs – including shakshuka.

Now, shakshuka is one of my absolute favorite meals. It’s quick, easy, you can eat it for any meal, and it is extremely malleable. Additionally, I don’t think there is one correct way to make it. Both traditional shakshuka and Mexican cuisine are full of peppers, tomatoes, and spices. Both are about heat, texture, spice, and care. Why not combine the two?

That’s what led me to create my recipe for Mexican Shakshuka.

From a traditional shakshuka recipe, you need only to change a few things: the types of peppers and spices. For my recipe, I changed the main peppers to poblanos and a jalapeño. You can also change the variety of tomato or get really adventurous and use tomatillos. For the spices, I use a simple taco seasoning, which is just a different variety of the same spices, though you can also use chipotle en adobo to your spice comfort level, which will add a depth to the dish that may surprise you!

To create more of a fusion dish, I drew influences from another classic dish, chilaquiles, by layering freshly fried tortillas, beans, shakshuka and topping it with queso fresco, avocado and cilantro.

This dish, while not too different from traditional shakshuka or from chilaquiles, is the essence of my being as a Mexican-American Jew. Every time somebody asks me “What is your favorite Jewish food?” I don’t hesitate to say shakshuka, tacos, fideo, chicken pozole, or matzah ball soup (with added jalapeños).

What makes our food Jewish is the soul and passion that we bring to it. As Jews of a variety of backgrounds and histories, I see food as the perfect way to embrace our differences that bring us together as a people and a family.

Want more from Amanda? Try her recipe for Mexican Shakshuka, then check out “Nothing Left Behind,” our interview with her on the podcast Wholly Jewish.

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