Just over a month ago, I had travelled from Yorkshire > London > Amsterdam > Paris > London by train for various work commitments, then, getting up at 0300 embarked on an 11 hour trip to Turkey. All by cattle class. If anyone is seething with envy – please don’t. Economy travel is not what it is all cracked up to be. This was my very first (and far from last) visit to Turkey. Ever the adventurer, Marlini wanted to pack in Istanbul and Cappadocia – however I was simply too worn out and we compromised on 4 days in Cappadocia, and what an experience.
It all started off with arriving at the fantastic Aya Kapadokya boutique hotel in Ürgüp – Nevşehir recently renovated by the truly delightful owners Begüm and Emre. We could not have asked for better. To call it a renovation is a complete injustice – a painstaking labour of love took a derelict pile of rubble that was rebuilt and transformed (using sweat and tears) and extended the original building to create some fabulously unique living spaces (our room was the Chapel Suite cave) adorned with superb fixtures and features. If the cave man had it this good, I do not think they would ever have left!
Not only was the setting delightful, it also introduced us to some fantastic local and regional ingredients. Breakfast really was the culinary highlight of our day and I am so relieved that we spent much of our time here hiking and trying to burn off some of some of indulgent starts to the day. I mean with such a diverse range of breads, cheese, fruit, olives (five different varieties at my last count) – how could one not want to try and get a small taste of them all?
On our first morning we were kindly dropped off at the Saturday market in Ürgüp. Our simply wrong and inaccurate assumption of what was locally produced in Turkey was corrected…. and then some. The range of fresh and succulent fruit alone was incredible: we bought peaches, nectarines, sweet green figs – seriously the best we had ever tasted. Then there were the tomatoes, aubergine and fresh herbs galore, Turkish Olive Oil (which can be incredible by the way), herbs, spices. We walked away with only a few ingredients to take back to the UK – locally made pomegranate molasses, Sumac and Pul Biber chilli Flakes – if the opportunity arose I would gladly have taken half the market back with me as we seemingly did in Ortegia Sicily over two years ago.
What we loved about our stay in Aya Kapadokya was that it became clear how much into food and flavours we were and Begüm and Emre strove to find ‘the best of the flavours’ Turkey had to offer. Whilst every endeavour was made to ‘keep local’ there are other ingredients and foods which are not locally produced, but most definitely Turkish. We had a superb range of cheeses, and monthly trips to Istanbul would take place to replenish stocks of what wasn’t locally available. Then, on our second morning we were introduced to…. Menemen – spicy Turkish scrambled eggs which we fell in love with instantly and this recipe is my interpretation of it.
We loved the Menemen so much, it was requested for the following morning. What we learned (and this it the kind of free style dish I love to make as you can make may iterations, however slight the variation) was that the second time around had garlic and onion. The first – delicious as it was – did not. I did a little research on this and discovered that the addition of onions to Menemen is a very divisive topic. Last year, Vedat Milor, a famous Turkish Food Critic put this to the vote. The result? 51/49 in favour of onions. Unlike the dismal outcome of Brexit, this got my vote. I have to give the shout out to Pul Biber – a semi-dried and coarsely ground dark red pepper can come in many guises, let alone heat. We returned with a good supply from the market and it gets regularly substituted for our much used Aleppo pepper (which I would argue are similar, but not the same).
The saddest thing is back home, the core ingredients just do not taste as good. The UK’s obsession with cosmetic perfection does not help either as it creates vast amounts of food waste. So what if a cucumber is a bit wonky, a tomato not perfectly round, or a pepper not entirely the same colour throughout? By the time it is chopped up, who cares? Some supermarkets are consciously offering an economy range which feature the ugly misfits and rejects of the vegetable beauty pageant – once chopped, peeled, boiled, cooked then eaten, does it really matter? What I really loved about the market in Ürgüp was that all fresh produce was beautifully displayed, but not every item looked as it is might have fallen off a production line. Taste surely has to overcome everything else. The tomatoes were so delicious and plentiful, we even took the opportunity to make my Gazpacho for Begüm and Emre as a small gesture of gratitude for the kindness and hospitality offered. Flavour wise (thanks entirely to the ingredients) it was the best I had ever made.
Menemen Spicy Turkish Scrambled Eggs
- medium red onion, finely diced
- sweet red pepper, destalked, deseeded and diced
- green pepper, destalked , deseeded and diced
- 1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 medium vine ripened tomatoes, destalked and diced
- 3 large free range eggs
- 2 large spring onions., trimmed and sliced
- Olive oil
- 1 - 2 heaped teaspoons Turkish Pul Biber Chilli flakes, depending on heat
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Sea Salt flakes
- Fresh Parsley
- In a deep frying pan, heat up the olive oil to a medium heat.
- Add the red onion, and sauté until tender.
- Add the diced pepper, and red chilli and sauté for 2 - 3 minutes until they start to soften. Then, tip in the crushed garlic ad Pul Biber chilli flakes and cook for a further minute or two.
- Next, add the chopped diced tomatoes and sir through thoroughly. Continue to sauté for a further 3-4 minutes or until they have started to soften and merge into the dish.
- Add the chopped spring onion, and cook for a further minute or two.
- Crack in the eggs, and mix thoroughly. season with sea salt flakes and freshly milled black pepper.
- Continue to scramble the ingredients until the eggs start to firm up.
- Transfer to a bowl and garnish with fresh parsley.
- Serve with bread.