I love shakshuka: at it’s most essential, it consists of eggs baked in tomato sauce. Sounds good, but it gets better when that tomato sauce is spicy and full-flavored, and the eggs are replaced with high-quality soft tofu and drizzled in my version of runny egg yolk: saffron cashew cream. Hey now, don’t make that face. A Japanese- or Hawaiian-style silken or soft tofu It is perfect here – light and creamy, but still slightly firm (yes, like an egg white) with a rich flavor. Soft tofu is made with higher-fat soy milk and is never pressed, giving it a light, smooth texture. Plus: tofu is lower in sodium and has more calcium than egg gram for gram, and also has zero cholesterol.
The best part of this dish is its ease – it’s often made for breakfast but I love it for dinner. And it’s utterly filling, an aspect that I refused to let be lost in translation to a vegan-friendly version. A lot of the flavor in this particular shakshuka recipe is from the red pepper, but also comes from the flavors packed in harissa – a chile paste with spices, garlic, and olive oil - that you can buy in a tube or a can. If you can’t seem to find it, make your own, or use the equivalent amount of chili-garlic sauce such as Thai sambal oelek (I love the kind with the green top) or even sriracha or another favorite hot sauce – it won’t have the same flavor profile but you’ll still get some heat! And when has sriracha ever hurt anything?
For the lazy among us (or those without high-speed blenders), the cashew cream can be easily (and more deliciously?) substituted with a good mayo such as Just Mayo or Vegenaise, and for the cheap (or legitimately cash-strapped), made sans saffron.
As the egg is supposed to bake into the sauce a little, here I swirl in a bit of cream sauce to the tomato and red peppers before adding the tofu, and add the rest of the cream just as it finishes cooking. Near the end of cooking, there will be orangey-red craters of saffron-tomato sauce surrounding the scoops of creamy tofu. Drizzle on the rest of the saffron cream, add a handful of freshly-chopped parsley, and serve with some crusty white bread to sop up the last of the sauce (or gluten-free toast if necessary).
Serve this for breakfast or dinner and anywhere in between. My favorite is to eat it for dinner with a big salad and of course, a crunchy baguette or toast. You can eat leftovers cold, too, although if you have a single serving-sized cast iron skillet that is more than enough reason to heat it up.
A NOTE ON THE TOFU: The soft or silken tofu used in this dish must be high-quality since it is such an integral part of the finished product. if you can find locally-made tofu, that is your best bet. Otherwise, organic versions often taste better. Tofu brands made with the coagulants nigari (magnesium chloride) or gypsum (calcium sulfate) will have a better texture than those made with glucono delta lactone. Vacuum-packed tofu such as the Mori-nu brand is absolutely not recommended for this recipe – if that’s all you can find, just go with your favorite brand of firm tofu (Trader Joe’s Organic Firm Tofu has almost the right texture). When you have the tofu you like, cut open the package and pour off any excess water. Do not press the tofu.
A lot of what I know about tofu is based on experience, but the more specific knowledge I have shared with you here is on account of Andrea Nguyen and her book “Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook it at Home.”
- 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons harissa*
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups diced red peppers (about 2 medium red peppers)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 28-oz can of diced tomatoes
- 1 14- or 16-oz container of soft tofu (see note above concerning tofu)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water
- 1/2 cup cashews, soaked for two hours**
- one small pinch of saffron***
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- lemon zest (optional)
- Baguette or other crusty bread (for gluten-free, use gluten-free bread, toasted)
- chopped parsley
- Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the harissa, tomato paste, red peppers, garlic, cumin, and salt. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until peppers soften. Add the diced tomatoes and bring to a simmer, cooking for 10 more minutes. At this point the sauce should be thickened.
- Prepare the saffron cream. Pour the boiling water over the saffron and let sit for ten minutes. Purée the cashews with the saffron water, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and lemon zest until creamy and smooth. Add more water if necessary to make a pourable sauce. Taste for salt. *If preparing a mayo-saffron sauce, add only two tablespoons of water to the saffron, and then mix with garlic powder, onion powder, and salt, and mix well, adding more water if necessary. Finely mince the lemon zest and stir in.
- With a large serving spoon, make five dips in the sauce. Spoon a generous tablespoon of the saffron cream into the dip and gently mix into the sauce. Scoop 1/5 of the tofu on top of the cream. Simmer gently for another 8-10 minutes. Drizzle on the remaining saffron cream and then remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with bread.
- *Harissa is often sold in tube or can form. I freeze the excess so it doesn't go bad before I use it up. If you CAN'T FIND HARISSA: use Thai sambal oelek (the stuff with the green top) or your favorite hot sauce (e.g., sriracha).
- **Or substitute 1/4 cup vegan mayo such as Just Mayo or Vegenaise, and use only 2 tablespoons water to soak the saffron.
- ***Alternatively, substitute a generous 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric. If using turmeric, the water doesn't have to be boiling.