For all its simplicity, menemen is nothing short of a revelation. Eggs, scrambled in a simple sauce of tomatoes, peppers and onions (though the latter is contested). Turkish scrambled eggs are the perfect way to start the day!
To onion or not to onion. When it comes to menemen, that is the question.
Vefat Milor, arguably Turkey’s most famous restaurant and food critic, posed this question on Twitter a few years ago. I don’t know if he anticipated the response. Perhaps he did, and that’s the reason he posted it.
The debate raged for days, and hundreds of thousands of Turks weighed in with their opinion in the poll. In the end, the result was closer to 50/50 than Britain’s infamous Brexit vote.
What is menemen?
Menemen is the most famous and treasured home breakfast dish in Turkey.
I sometimes refer to it as scrambled eggs with vegetables, but given the ratios often employed by Turkish cooks, a mashed-up shakshuka is probably a better description.
Don’t suggest this explanation to any Turks, though. They have their own version of shakshuka, which is rather different from the dish of Tunisian origin that has taken much of the Western world by storm. Notably, it includes no eggs.
Eggs scrambled in a sauce of tomato, green peppers and, for 50% of the population, onions. Incredible in summar, when the tomatoes are sweet and juicy. But it’s delicious in winter, too. I’ve made it during Norwegian winter months, with canned tomatoes, and that’s delicious too. Not as fresh and summery, perhaps, but still very more-ish.
Patience is a virtue
When it comes to cooking menemen, patience is a virtue. The key to getting the best flavour is to cook the vegetables very gently, in generous amounts of good quality olive oil.
You don’t want any browned or burnt bits, so don’t leave the stove for anything more than a second.
You also don’t want any resistance from the onions or peppers, so don’t give in when the hunger pain strikes and you’re tempted to throw in the eggs, even though the onion still has a bite to it. The onions and peppers should be completely soft and sweet in flavour.
In Turkey, there’s a wide variety of green peppers that are as suitable to eating raw as they are delicious in cooked dishes such as this. I prefer a variety usually just sold as village peppers (köy biberi). They look like small, but longer, bell peppers with super thin walls, reminiscent of the Spanish padron peppers. Whilst a variety with thin walls (as all Turkish varieties have) is the best option for menemen, green bell pepper also works, if that’s what you have.
In my early days of Turkish cooking, having not yet quite understood the appeal of green peppers, I substituted red romano peppers. I’ve long since abandoned this practice, though they remain in the photo accompanying this recipe. Being less sweet when cooked, green peppers work better alongside the onion and tomatoes. This is especially true if your tomatoes are of the sweet, vine-ripened height-of-summer kind. I’d consider them if using canned tomatoes, though.
How to serve menemen
Menemen is best enjoyed as I saw it on my trip to the spice market last month. I popped in early (you know, corona and all, best to arrive before the crowds), and ended up interrupting the team breakfast at the beginning of the working day.
A huge pan of menemen placed on a provisional table. Around, plenty of chairs, a friendly atmosphere and lots of bread to mop up this deliciousness.
For a bigger breakfast, supplement traditional Turkish breakfast items as you like: Olives, cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes and cucumber, perhaps some honey. And plenty of black tea (or filter coffee, if you’re an inconvertible Scandi, like me).
The recipe serves 2, more if part of a bigger breakfast.
- 2 tbps olive oil (I use a mild extra virgin)
- 0.5 medium onion (or 1 very small), finely chopped (option – see above)
- 3-4 long, thin Turkish peppers (sivri biber) or 0.5 medium green bell pepper (or equivalent other pepper of your choice), finely chopped
- 2 medium size tomatoes, halved
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
- 4 eggs
- Aleppo pepper (pul biber), to serve (optional)
- salt and pepper
- Heat a large frying pan over medium/low heat. Add the olive oil and fry onion and peppers until completely soft, but not coloured, 10-15 minutes. Stir regularly, making sure the onions don't catch any colour.
- Grate the tomatoes with the cut side against the coarse side of a box grater, until only the skin remains. Discard the skin. Whisk the eggs in a bowl with some salt and pepper.
- When the onion and peppers are soft, add the grated tomato and chopped parsley. Simmer for 5-10 to allow the flavours to mingle, making sure to stir regularly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Turn the heat down to low. Add the eggs. Cook until the eggs are as you like them, stirring constantly. Personally, I prefer menemen to be slightly runny. Serve immediately, with an extra scattering of parsley, if you like.