Food for Thought: Menemen

A Turkish breakfast dish that reminds me of home

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Skillet of menemen atop a table with a green and white checkered tablecloth
Make menemen for your next meal! Photo courtesy of Vedat Zorluer / Pixabay

By: Yasmin Vejs Simsek, Staff Writer

Are you desperately looking for new recipes that are easy to make and budget-friendly? Are you sick to your stomach of instant ramen 5–7 days a week? Would you like to add a hearty, healthy, and delicious meal to your repertoire? Then I want to introduce you to menemen, the Turkish breakfast dish which is just as perfect for lunch as it is for dinner. Originating from the Menemen area close to Izmir in Western Turkey, it shares a lot of similarities with the well-known shakshuka, another popular dish in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The best thing about making this dish is that you can customize your ingredients: you are the master of what goes in your menemen.

This dish reminds me of the summer holidays in my family’s hometown of Kayseri, Turkey. More often than not, we would be in 40 ℃ heat, sleeping in late, and waking up to the smell of my babaanne’s menemen. In my family, we would add a popular Turkish sausage called sucuk, an amazing garlicky beef sausage which adds a wonderful depth. It is not easy to find in Vancouver, but Mediterranean Specialty Foods on Commercial Drive sells them. Other meats typically used for breakfast dishes are a fine replacement. What makes my grandmother’s cooking unique is her love for sucuk and her generosity with olive oil — the house would frequently be immersed in cozy aromas of garlic. Sitting in my PJs at the table with the whole family gathered around it, we would dig into the feta, olives, and most importantly, the menemen. 

The main ingredients needed for this recipe are peppers, tomatoes, and eggs. There are huge debates on the addition of onion, with a 51/49 split on the matter. I belong to the “onion and garlic in everything” team, so I always add both to my menemen. 

The great thing about this dish is how customizable it is. You can easily make it vegetarian or vegan; simply withhold the eggs and sausage and let the vegetables speak for themselves. Similarly, you can just add whatever you have at home or substitute fresh tomatoes with canned tomatoes for a cheaper meal. Bread goes perfectly with menemen, but for fewer carbohydrates, it can easily be enjoyed on its own. In Turkey, it would be served with the basic and inexpensive Turkish bread called somun ekmek. You can buy somun ekmek in literally every store there and it’s the perfect bread for soaking up the delicious, tomato-based sauce. I like to show off by poaching my eggs in the sauce, but traditionally it is scrambled into the mix.

Here is how I make menemen for 3–4 portions/people, so you can be sure to have leftovers the next day.

Ingredients:

  •       6–8 fresh tomatoes or 1 jar of canned tomatoes 
  •       1–2 peppers (traditionally green capsicum pepper, but I use red/orange bell pepper)
  •       1 onion (white, but again, use what your fridge has to offer)
  •       Garlic (an optional amount, I shamelessly go with 3–4 cloves)
  •       4 eggs (if scrambled, otherwise as many as will be eaten when served)
  •       Preferred meat (pork will make it much less Turkish, but you’re the boss)
  •       Butter or oil to fry (more is always better)
  •       Spices (such as paprika, black pepper, herbs)

Instructions:

  1.   Heat up a pan with oil or butter on medium heat and dice your onion to preferred size. Add them to the pan.
  2.   Add your crushed or finely chopped garlic when the onions have started to soften.
  3.   Meanwhile, cut pepper in squares and roughly chop the tomatoes. They will soften during cooking.
  4.   After 5 minutes on the pan, add pepper and meat to the onion and garlic.
  5.   After another few minutes, add the tomatoes and spices — again, you’re the boss, add some chili flakes if you’re feeling spicy.
  6.   Turn the heat down to low-medium, and let it simmer with a lid on for 10–15 minutes.
  7.   When the tomatoes are basically dissolved and the dish has turned appropriately saucy, add the eggs. If scrambled, scramble them in the mixture till it reaches the preferred texture. If poaching, crack the eggs evenly around the pan and put the lid back on. Let it cook for 6-7 minutes or until the whites have hardened.
  8.   Sprinkle a little salt on top and serve in the pan for the most authentic presentation.

Afiyet Olsun (Enjoy your meal)