Mother’s Day in a Jewish Way

Shakshuka in a cast iron skillet on stone backgroundShakshuka in a cast iron skillet on stone background

“Honor thy Mother and Father” is one of the Ten Commandments. So when Mother’s Day arrives, the second Sunday in May, honoring the mothers in our lives comes easy, and it is more than a mitzvah, it is a mandate. Interestingly, it was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914. Yet, Jarvis spent the rest of her life trying to remove it because of its commercialism.

I believe in honoring mothers and motherhood with cards, flowers and gifts. My family has always celebrated a brunch so that other plans of the day would be possible. Gifts can be simple flower pots with herbs that can continue to grow, even in a sunny window. My table is loaded with family pictures as far back as old generations and present-day guests. Food is make-ahead buffet dishes so a mother or grandmother host can also relax.

Shakshuka is a great way to celebrate a brunch in a Jewish way, and there are many versions. Traditional shakshuka sauce can now be purchased in jars, and you can spice them up to your own taste. If you’re like me, matzoh brei is not just for Passover. I serve it throughout the year. I tried Steven Speilberg’s family recipe this year and loved it. He sautees some onions (larger chopped) ahead, then wets the matzoh pieces in warm milk (can be dairy-free), drains it and cooks the damp matzoh, onions and eggs until done. Simply delish! I serve this matzoh brei with the shakshuka for brunch or dinner with toasted challah, pita bread or tortillas.

To honor mothers in a Jewish way is to celebrate any women whose love and guidance and wisdom has sustained us. So even a good faithful friend can be acknowledged and included: all the women who have nurtured your neshamah (soul). And never forget the women who sit alone in a nearby nursing home. A short visit with a flower goes a long way.

Ilene’s Shakshuka


  • 3 28-ounce cans of petite diced or even
    fire-roasted diced tomatoes, squished to make sauce a bit finer
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 white or sweet onion, finely diced; saute the onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon red cayenne pepper or small pinch of flakes (to taste)
  • Add some turmeric and cumin (to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 6-10 medium or large eggs (or use 12 small size eggs)

Directions: Drain most (but not all) liquid from the tomatoes. Try to “squish” large pieces. Saute the onions until soft. Add garlic and stir, cooking until onions just start to brown slightly. Put the tomatoes in a large pan on top of stove along with the saute onions, garlic, salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, tomato paste and olive oil. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered over low heat until thick (about 45 minutes while stirring occasionally). When the tomato sauce is thick, which can be done in advance and reheated before adding eggs, make very deep impressions with the back of a tablespoon in the sauce to “hold” each egg. Carefully break eggs over cup or bowl (make sure there is no blood or pieces of the shell), then gently place the egg into the pan (making sure not to break the yolk). Cover pan. Heat low-medium (put the eggs on opposite sides of the pan so they don’t blend together) until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still very soft (may take about 15-20 minutes, watching carefully).  Serve immediately or wait to add the eggs about 15 minutes before serving. Do not leave on stove or the yolks will get hard-cooked, and that is not the way it is served. Serves 8-10, depending on amount and size of eggs, with a large serving spoon. I try to use the smallest eggs possible, even quail eggs. Leftover sauce can be used for pasta.

Green Shakshuka


  • 1 large Spanish onion
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1½ pounds tomatillos
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 jalapeno chili, optional
  • ½ cup packed fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons hot sauce, if you like
    it spicy
  • 1 to 2 eggs per person
  • Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • Toasted challah or French brioche, for serving

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Peel and quarter the onion and place with the garlic cloves in a small baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes or until very soft when pierced with a knife. (The onion and garlic can be prepared ahead of time.)

In a large bowl, soak the tomatillos in warm water to peel off the outer husk, then cut in half. Cut the stem from the bell pepper, discard the seeds, and cut into quarters. Also, cut the stem from the jalapeno, discard the seeds and quarter it. Place the peeled tomatillos, bell pepper, jalapeno and cilantro leaves in a food processor with the roasted onion and garlic. Process until very smooth; it will have a salsa-like consistency.

Transfer to a medium saucepan. Add the coriander, cumin and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the tomatillo sauce is heated through. Be careful not to cook too long or your sauce will discolor and the taste will change. Add 1 tablespoon of hot sauce at a time until you’ve hit your desired spice level.

To assemble: Oil a cast-iron pan and set it over low heat. Crack the desired number of eggs into the pan and cover. Allow the eggs to cook sunny-side up until the whites are fully cooked, but the yolks should remain soft. Once the
eggs are cooked, gently spoon the shakshuka sauce on top of the eggs and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with toasted challah or French brioche. Serves 1 to 2 eggs per person.

Ilene’s Rugelach Brownies


  • Your favorite brownie recipe or a good
    prepared box mix
  • 8 small chocolate rugelach (store bought)

Directions: Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Place the rugelach on bottom with 4 on each of 2 rows. Pour prepared brownie mix gently over the rugelach. Bake according to directions until lightly brown on top. Makes 8 servings.

Tips & Tricks:

  • I saved some charoses; added more cinnamon and apple and pureed to slightly “chunky.” I use this to swirl or layer in my mondel bread recipe. So good!
  • Best light salad dressing: Lightly coat greens with olive oil and sea salt. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and lemon juice to taste. Never buy store dressing again.
  • Best way to peel hard-boiled eggs: After hard-boiling and cooling, place one egg at a time in a glass jar.
    Add about ¼ cup water. Cover jar tightly and shake vigorously until you see some whites of the egg.
    Under running water, the egg will easily lose its shell.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.


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