Showcasing shakshouka

A November festival at Benedict, red and green versions at Café 65.

Benedict (photo credit: SARIT GOFEN)
(photo credit: SARIT GOFEN)
Benedict, Israel’s foremost restaurant chain specializing in breakfast all day, is holding a shakshouka festival this month, featuring variations on the Tunisian-Israeli favorite inspired by the cuisines of the world.
The festival menu, on offer in all of Benedict’s nine branches throughout the country, is being served through December 2. There are no fewer than eight versions of shakshouka (NIS 61-79) listed, including a Mexican variation called Huevos Rancheros, plus – like choosing toppings for a pizza – extra ingredients to add to the regular classic.
Most of the shakshouka dishes are identified by color, reflecting their main ingredient. There are options for every preference: vegetarian, vegan, with meat or with seafood. All are served with a complimentary medium-sized loaf of challa fresh from the oven, a side chopped salad, and a choice of drink, adding up to a full meal.
Our first shakshouka was the yellow: eggs with creamy polenta studded with kernels of grilled corn, flecked with spring onion and layered with strips of savory bacon – all adding up to a hearty and delicious dish.
Next was the green shakshouka, which turned out to be very different from many other green versions often found in Israel: In addition to the usual eggs with spinach, this mélange also contained Swiss chard, broccoli and al dente peas in a cream sauce. Good as all of this was, most of the flavor came from the terrific secondary ingredients: sun-dried tomatoes, purple onion and sharp feta cheese.
No visit to Benedict is complete without one of its signature desserts, and our waitress recommended a relatively new one I had not seen before: the Kinder mini-pancakes – a small stack of their fluffy flapjacks garnished with the famous candy bar. This version is a tad sweeter than the other pancake combinations, but it’s right up there with the best of them.
A bounteous buffet with shakshouka entrées
Café 65 has come a long way since its infancy, when it served a simple buffet breakfast to guests of the boutique hotel that is its home. It expanded to include a luncheon service, and improved its daily brunches to the point where now one must book well in advance in order to secure a table on weekends.
The buffet which has grown so popular provides a sumptuous spread of cheeses, salads, smoked fish and cooked vegetables, along with a variety of fresh breads, crackers and croissants. It also includes a hot main dish, as well as fresh squeezed juice, cava and coffee, for an all-inclusive price of NIS 115 (including VAT).
Among the entrées offered as hot dishes is shakshouka, either red or green, served in hot skillets. For those not interested in the full buffet, the shakshouka may be ordered à la carte for the very reasonable price of NIS 35.
The red shakshouka at Café 65 is the classic version, sprinkled liberally with parsley. Nevertheless, in my experience, it differs from most others in one respect: this is the least spicy shakshouka I have ever tasted. That is not to say that it is bland; on the contrary, it is redolent with deep, rich tomato aroma and flavor. If someone has so far refrained from partaking of shakshouka, fearing its fiery reputation, he need be concerned no longer.
Similarly, the green version here is extraordinarily pungent without needing to rely on the bite of chili pepper; rather, this mixture of egg, mangold and spinach is enriched by sour cream and a generous dollop of goat’s milk yogurt.
Finally, while there is no lack of cakes and pastries to be found on the buffet, the French toast – golden-brown brioche with pear poached in wine, berry confiture and whipped cream – is certainly worthy of consideration as a warm dessert. Like the shakshouka, this treat is available as one of the personal entrées on the brunch menu.
The writer was a guest of the restaurants.
Benedict. Not kosher.
Shopping Mall, Kfar Saba. Tel: (03) 686-8657, ext. 6
Café 65 @ Hotel 65. Not kosher.
65 Rothschild Street, Tel Aviv. Tel: (03) 767-7677