Turkish food is without a doubt some of my favorite food on earth. They are a culture that likes their meat, for sure, but they also adore vegetables, and when we traveled there last summer, there was no end to the awesome salads, bean dishes, and other vegetable dishes. We also lucked out and were there during fruit season, so during hikes in the Cappdocia region, we frequently picked apricot fruits directly from wild trees, and sampled local cherries and many dried fruits with our breakfasts (which usually included bread, farmer’s cheese, olives, and lots of fruit).
One of our favorite dishes we came across while traveling was “Menemen”–a peasant dish of eggs scrambled in a rough sauce of onion, garlic, tomatoes, and banana peppers, topped with a bit of feta, and sometimes herbs. It was usually served with lots of fresh bread to mop it all up, and it’s one of those dishes that is hard to mess up, and is thus a good bet whenever you’re relying on a rural village restaurant, a tourist trap when other options aren’t readily available, or a train station-type in-transit restaurant. Every time I had it, it was great. Of course, much of this had to do with the fact that the vegetables available in Turkey were incredible: fragrant tomatoes, herbs from the back yard, homemade cheese, and eggs straight from the chicken…. It’s also interesting as a dish in comparison to American egg dishes, in that the eggs are a component, but not the focus of the dish. There are only 2 eggs in a dish that would serve four people, or two people very generously. We especially enjoyed this dish as a post-hiking meal as we trekked around the Cappadocia area of Turkey, where they often served it directly from the fire in individual, tiny little copper pans (pictures of the stunning landscape there from a hot air balloon ride we took there to the left–need I say more?).
I couldn’t resist making this a few days ago for lunch, even though the tomatoes available in the grocery stores in Chicago in April are pitiful, flavorless things in comparison with summer Turkey tomatoes. However, it was still delicious, and I look forward to making this in the summer with produce from the farmer’s market. As a side note, down South where I’m from, banana peppers are usually only fried or used for pickling, and so it was inspiring to see them used in so many ways in Turkey in their fresh form. I strongly encourage you to try them out in your Mediterranean dishes!
Menemen (Turkish Eggs, Tomato, and Pepper Dish)
recipe adapted from this one at The Kitchn, by Cenk of Cafe Fernando
serves 2 to 4 people
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 long Banana peppers, seeds removed and sliced thinly
- 3 tomatoes on the vine (or Roma tomatoes if others aren’t available)
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 medium free-range eggs
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Few grinds of black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Optional: harissa, pita bread
Heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook gently until softened, stirring occasionally, for about 4-5 minutes. Add the peppers and cook for another minute.
In the meantime, dice the tomatoes finely. Do not discard the vine; it will add extra tomato flavor to the dish. Add the tomatoes together with the vine and salt. Turn the heat up to medium-high, cover and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, for about 5-8 minutes.
Turn off the heat, take the lid off and discard the tomato vine. Crack the eggs into a bowl, whisk them, and then add to the tomato sauce. Stir with a spatula while the heat from the sauce cooks the eggs slowly, for about 2 minutes. Add the crumbled feta cheese, give it another stir, cover and let the cheese soften for a minute.
Serve with pita or slices of toasted crusty bread on the side. Sprinkle with chopped parsley right before serving, and serve with harissa at the table so people can make it more spicy at will.