The Benedict chain of restaurants is bringing back its popular shakshuka festival this month, featuring variations on the Tunisian-Israeli favorite inspired by cuisines of the world.
The festival menu, on offer in all of Benedict’s 11 branches throughout the country, is being served through November 30. There are no fewer than eight versions of shakshuka (NIS 59-72) listed on the special menu created for the occasion; and to the chain’s credit, an entire separate English menu equal in all respects to the Hebrew one is available. (Note: The festival menu is not online.)
Naturally, the ubiquitous red and green shakshukas are prominent – albeit with variations – but so are other colors: yellow, brown (even if that exact adjective does not appear on the menu) and white, to be exact. There is even a vegan option, featuring an egg substitute, as well as plenty of vegetarian and vegan options throughout the Benedict menu.
What makes the star dish of this festival such a good deal is the complementary dishes that are included: your choice of bread – an entire mini-loaf of soft brioche challah, or Benedict’s famous basket of assorted rolls – plus your choice of a generous market salad or green salad (they are basically the same, although the former omits lettuce). There is also a gluten-free bread option – and, of course, shakshuka itself is sans gluten.
The shakshuka – served in a hot iron skillet that is filled close to the brim – along with the salads and sizable breads easily constitute a full meal. Moreover, the breads come with three accompaniments: tehina, zhug and olives – and free refills are constantly being offered.
The unusually elaborate green shakshuka, as well as the yellow – featuring polenta – are being reprised from the previous festival (see the JPost review of 17.11.18). Even the Italian shakshuka is a variation on the Amatriciana egg balls dish that was once available on the now streamlined egg balls menu.
In addition, however, there are some interesting debuts this time around: the white – which is drizzled with truffle oil, and two versions – that might justifiably be called Levantine: hummus and siniye. The former needs no introduction, while the latter features ground beef, sliced potatoes and pine nuts drenched in tehina and seasoned with sumac.
While deciding what to order, meanwhile, it is worth sipping one of Benedict’s very reasonably priced cocktails. There is a slew of creative mimosas (NIS 21), for example, of which we enjoyed the pineapple. There is also a limited selection of wines and beer.
We were tempted by several of the festival shakshukas, but we eventually settled on two with familiar Israeli roots. First was the “by the book” – Benedict’s moniker for the classic poached eggs in a piquant tomato and red pepper sauce; what we did to make it different was load it with all the available extras (NIS 7-9): eggplant, feta cheese crumbles and chorizo sausage. These additions enhanced the taste and made for an especially hearty and filling dish.
The hummus shakshuka similarly upgraded the familiar dish we all know and love, by combining plain shakshuka with hot hummus, pine nuts and two falafel balls. The outstanding falafel was crunchy on the outside and green on the inside, and I was pleasantly surprised when our friendly waiter said he would be happy to bring another round of the fried chickpea favorite.
Indeed, the dish as a whole was a revelation. The wait staff is trained to ask whether you want your shakshuka eggs poached medium (in other words, with runny yolks) or hard. This was an opportunity to try hummus with eggs that were not the traditional hard-boiled, and it turned out to be a rewarding discovery.
We had no room for any of the new tantalizing side dishes on the menu, but we could not resist splitting a small dessert: of one of Benedict’s seven varieties of pancake (NIS 32-44). The “dark chocolate” comes with rich, melting chocolate disks sprinkled with powdered sugar on top of the short stack of fluffy pancakes, adding up to a real treat.Benedict
171 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv (one of 11 restaurants throughout the country)
Tel. (03) 686-8657
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.