Libyan Homemade Shakshuka {Recipe} Plus {Review}

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

My book club met last night to discuss Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men.

This book is about a young boy growing up in Tripoli, Libya with a father who may or may not be involved in anti government conducts and a mother who may or may not be visiting the baker for smuggled alcohol to hide her depression. With no structure at home, our protagonist relays on those around him as he witnesses the horrors of growing up with a murderous dictator.

For me the writing fell short of other Arab novels I’ve read, however as a debut novel it does an excellent job of describing Tripoli under the terrors of the Gaddafi rule. It was even shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. Matar went on to write Anatomy of a Disappearance, and in my opinion that is a much better read.

I had a personal connection to this book since I distinctly remember my father telling me the story of Hisham Mater’s father’s real life disappearance in 1990.

At the time, Libyans abroad thought that Egypt was safe to travel and met family there that they were not able to see otherwise. They soon learned that Gaddafi had a detrimental reach over the border.

Everyone always assumed Matar’s father was killed in the 1996
Abu Salim prison massacre. I was happy to recently read that may not have been the case. The true story of what happened may someday be told.

In our book club the host provides the main dish and everyone else brings the sides. Since our book was about my birth country, I decided to try my hand at making a common dish in Libyan cuisine: shashouka.

To be honest, I had forgotten about shashuka, since I hadn’t eaten it in years and years. It’s not a common dish here in America because it’s made with Libyan gedeed, قديد ليبي, which is hard to find.  If you do decide to try your hand at it, it takes a very long time to make.

Gedeed is dried lamb (or mutton) that is made and preserving in a unique way. The meat is cut into strips and salted and dried, with spices added to prevent bacteria. Then it is hung to cure. Anyone visiting Libya during Eid Al Adha, will see thin strips
of meat hanging from lines all over town.

Last week I was trying to decide what to make for book club on a day that I knew was going to be full of parent teacher conferences and multiple auto car repair shop visits. I needed something fast and well, Libyan food is not known for being fast. Someone in one of the blooger groups I belong to mentioned shakshouka and posted a recipe. Soon others mentioned that they ate it in Tunisia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and even Israel.

When I looked into the history of shakshuka, I found out that it originated in North Africa, with wiki saying it is part of Tunisian, Libyan, Algerian, Moroccan, and Egyptian cuisine.

Upon future research, I found that there are several Israeli who make direct ties to bringing shashuka from Libya:

“A Greek? Making shakshuka?” said Tzachi, a short and temperamental man with warm brown eyes and a hairy chest. “Please, that’s Moroccan food, leave it to us.” “Moroccan?” came a voice from the other end of the tent. “How dare you, punk?” It was Danny, and he wasn’t happy. Shakshuka, he said, originated from Tripoli, and was brought to Israel by Libyan Jews. Greeks and Moroccans, he said, have no right to claim it. – Liel Leibovitz, All Shakshuka Up, The Jewish Week

Also, if you are to eat Doktor Shakshuka, in old Jaffa, you are eating at an establishment owned by a large Libyan family, who most likely migrated to Israel from 1948 to 1951.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

A quick call to my mom (remember that yummy Libyan Mubatan she made us?) confirmed that it was indeed North African, as there is no word for it in Hebrew.  Shakshouka was actually an Amazigh word that means “all mixed up.”

She gave me her recipe for Libyan shakshouka and I decided to make it last night for book club.

We spent our evening talking about the history of Libya and we answering questions together about the book. Since I had no way of getting access to gedeed, she said I could use beef jerky instead. It actually tasted quite yummy and the pan was empty by the end of the evening.

Saha’a (to your health!) if you would like to try it.

olive oil
tomato paste
Libyan spices
beef jerky

In a deep pan, heat up the olive oil, garlic, onions and jalapenos. I put them in whole because I didn’t have time to seed them. It gives the dish the flavor, but let my guests be in charge of how spicy.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

While the stuff is happening on the stove, I used kitchen scissors to cut the beef jerky into small bite size pieces and soaked them in water. This helped soften the jerky as gedeed is not “tough” in the original Libyan dish. While that is soaking, I pureed the tomatoes in a blender.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

At this point the onions should be soft so I added the tomatoes to the pan and turn it on high. I removed the jerky from the water and added that also. (Discard the water.)

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab
I’m lucky in that I have an Arab mom that stocks my kitchen with jars that simply say Libyan spices. It’s our country’s version of allspice, but way better. If you don’t have a Libyan mom stocking your spice rack, simply mix 1 tbs turmeric, 1 tbs ground cinnamon in your pan.
Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

I also added a 1/2 Tbsp of paprika.  I cooked this for about 5
minutes on high, then turned low to simmer and mixed in one heaping Tbsp on tomato paste. Be generous, it’s okay.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

I let this simmer for 20 minutes and came back with four eggs. I cracked them on top, making sure to break the yoke. I put a lid over the eggs and set the timer.  5 minutes for runny centers and 10 minutes for hard centers.

I left the lid on untill you got to the table and then add a handful of parsley for color immediately before serving.  Shakshuka is not eaten with utensils, rather warm bread is used to soak up the sauce, eggs and meat.

We also enjoyed sides of couscous and vegetables.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

Along with taboulah, kibbeh and sfiha from the local Lebanese market in town.

Shakshuka In the Country of Men by A Crafty Arab

After dinner we went to the living room for tea, halwa and yummy homemade fruit cake and cookies.  It was a lovely night and I can’t wait till we meet again next month.



I am a Libyan American who creates art to promote a positive image of Arab and Islamic culture.