I was a voracious reader as a child. I remember when, aged 8, I was ill in bed with mumps, my mother was severely challenged by my relentless demand for books. I would get through two or three a day: books like The Secret Garden, the Heidi books, the Jennings series and What Katy Did. Books I came to love and read over and over again. Sometimes my reading got me into trouble. My father would find me reading in the dark of my bedroom at night with a torch (my 9-year-old nephew Leo apparently does the same, according to my brother, but his Kindle acts as a torch!); I’d take books on family outings (and presumably be pretty unsociable) and be told off for reading too much. But fate was kind to me and led me to a job in book publishing at the prestigious house of Methuen, where I began as a secretary and eventually became a commissioning editor, and I was fully able to indulge my love of books. I even worked on lots of cookery books so was also able to indulge my other early love – food and cooking! I left full-time work to have my daughter (over 30 years ago) but have continued working as a freelancer. Fortunately – since it is my means of earning a living – my love of reading has not diminished and I still love a good book! Of course, what I read for work varies in terms of my enjoyment. Everyone has the odd bad day at work, and sometimes I end up having to read a book I don’t much like. But generally, as I work for leading publishers, I’m reading good stuff, often bestselling books. Even so, not all bestsellers are ‘my thing’ but happily I most often end up reading books I enjoy and sometimes books I enjoy a lot.
Such is my good fortune this week that I am proofreading one of Babara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen mysteries. Set in Istanbul, the Turkish Inspector Ikmen is becoming a close rival for my fictional affections which for a long time have been given exclusively to the Italian Inspector Montalbano. Ikmen has been likened to Morse, but to me he is much more human and likeable; yes a bit grumpy but essentially good and a man who has his own moral standards. The feminist in me likes that despite his wife being a very strict Muslim, he doesn’t hold with ruling her life but is liberal and thinking in his outlook. He also loves his city of Istanbul passionately – much as I love London, where I was born and have always lived. I’ve been particularly enjoying the read because it’s so vividly reminded me of my trip to Istanbul a year ago with my friends Linda and George. That was a fabulous trip and it’s great fun to recognise places we visited and be able to picture them in my mind as I read the book. But, of course, I also get excited by mention of Turkish food, from Lahmacun (a kind of Turkish pizza), to borek (savoury pastries) and then, today, Menemen. I didn’t know this egg dish so just had to go downstairs and consult my Ghillie Basan’s Classic Turkish Cooking. There it was. There was even a photo. A tempting photo. Yes, here was supper!
I could have easily bought some pitta to go with the Menemen but felt like making Sam & Sam Clark’s Quick Flatbread from Casa Moro. I’m busy with work at the moment but for me cooking is so relaxing, I can lose myself nicely in the kitchen once I’ve come down from my office at the end of my working day and start cooking. A glass of wine to hand, a bit of blues or jazz in the background, and I’m away. And really, this is a very simple bread!
Sift 130g strong white flour into a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt. Measure out 100ml lukewarm water in a jug and add 1/4 teaspoon dried yeast, give it a good mix and then slowly pour it into the flour, mixing it all together with one hand as you go and bringing it into a ball of dough. Then add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and mix well. The Sams in their quickness don’t knead the dough but ‘beat’ it in the bowl. However, it was very wet so I kneaded for a couple of minutes on a floured worktop. Then leave the dough to rise for about 20 minutes in a floured bowl, covered with cling film. While this is happening, start preparing the Menemen.
As I was cooking just for myself, I halved Ghillie’s recipe. I sliced 1/2 medium onion, 1/2 yellow pepper, finely sliced about half a red chilli and skinned 2 medium tomatoes. Put the onion, pepper and chilli into a large frying pan with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a good knob of butter. When they’ve softened, add the skinned and chopped tomatoes and some seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cook gently until the vegetables are soft and most of the liquid evaporated. At this point, I put the vegetables to the side while I cooked the flatbreads and prepared the ‘optional’ sauce (which I thought sounded too good to be missed). For the sauce, mix 2 tablespoons thick Greek yogurt with 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder, 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika, a crushed 1/2 clove garlic and salt and pepper.
Now make the flatbreads. Roll the dough into a sausage shape and cut into 4 (I was planning to eat 2 and freeze 2.). Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into a thin round. Heat a medium-sized frying pan until hot then drop a circle of dough in. Watch it carefully. It should bubble up a bit when done one side; use a spatula to turn it over and cook the other side.
Transfer to a plate in a warm (not hot) oven to keep warm and cook the second flatbread. Now for the final part of the menemen. Return the vegetables to the heat and when they’re warm through again, crack 2 eggs in (sadly I broke one yoke! But never mind). Put a lid on and cook gently until the white of the egg is cooked through but the yolk still runny (unless you like cooked-through yolks!).
Transfer very carefully to a warm plate and serve with the sauce and flatbreads.
Menemen is a kind of street food, made in stalls and sold at bus and train stations, anywhere there’s passing trade. It’s really a snack but also makes a gorgeous light supper, as I ate it tonight. I just loved the soft egg yolk running into the sweet vegetables with their slight, chilli hit. And it could all be mopped up nicely with the soft bread. It’s the kind of snack that can be cooked up really quickly – especially if you don’t bother to make the bread and use bought pitta or flatbread!