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.

The Shakshuka Recipe

Yield: six servings

2 pounds fresh tomatoes, unpeeled and cut in quarters, or one 28-ounce can tomatoes

6 cloves garlic, roughly diced

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1/4 cup vegetable oil

6 large eggs

1. 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.

2. Ladle the tomato sauce into a greased 12-inch frying pan. Bring to a sim­mer and break the eggs over the tomatoes. Gently break the yolks with a fork. 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.

Note: Alternatively, you can make individual portions, as they do at Doktor Shakshuka, by ladling some of the sauce into a very small pan and poaching one egg in it.

Reprinted with permission from The Foods of Israel Today (Knopf).

Joan Nathan

Joan Nathan lived in Israel for three years where she worked for Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem. She is the author of several cookbooks, contributes articles on international ethnic food and special holiday features to The New York Times, Food Arts, Gourmet, and the B'nai B'rith International Jewish Monthly.