Vegan Menemen: Turkish-Style Scrambled Eggs, Without the Eggs

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Soft and tender curds of tofu in a spicy tomato sauce. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

I once made a chart of all the foods I miss most during my annual vegan month. Way at the top of that list, just under pizza, was eggs. I love eggs, especially when they're soft, creamy, and custardy, which is why none of the vegan "tofu scramble" recipes I've seen have ever really appealed to me. They tend to be aimed at folks who like their eggs extra firm and artificially yellowed with turmeric. When I look for egg dishes that would do well in a vegan incarnation, I look to recipes that are intentionally soft and tender. Last week, it was vegan migas. Today, I'm turning toward Turkey.

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During the week and a half that I spent in Istanbul, my sisters, my wife, and I must have eaten menemen—eggs scrambled with olive oil, onions, chilies, and tomatoes—at least a dozen times. Traditionally, it's made by slow-cooking onions and hot green chilies in olive oil in a sahan, a shallow, tin-lined vessel that doubles as a serving platter, until tender. They're then seasoned with dried chilies (commonly smoky-hot Urfa peppers) and oregano, then stewed with tomatoes until nice and saucy. The eggs go in at the last moment and are cooked until just barely set. You eat it with a spoon, piling it up on soft Turkish bread, accompanied by olives and sliced cucumbers.

Because it has so many strong flavors and a texture that's easily captured with silken tofu, it works incredibly well as a vegan breakfast.

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The process is essentially identical to the one for the egg-based version.

It's possible to make it with regular hot paprika, but do yourself a favor and order some Urfa chilies online. They have a sweet, almost raisin-like aroma, with a distinct smokiness and a touch of heat. They're absolutely delicious on eggs, salads, grilled vegetables, you name it. Plus, they'll lend a gorgeous crimson-red color to your olive oil as you slowly sauté the vegetables and spices together.

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With egg-based menemen, you have to tread a very, very thin line between undercooked and overcooked eggs (both sins are equally egregious). With tofu-based menemen, you have no such concerns. You can cook that tofu as long as you'd like and still end up with perfectly custardy, moist, tender curds.

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I pour a little (okay, a lot) more olive oil over the top, along with some chopped chives or parsley, just before serving. The texture is somewhere between soft scrambled eggs and a dip, so, if you want to really go at it, you don't even need to bother with a spoon—just use bread as an edible utensil. With dishes like these, I find myself craving eggs just a little bit less. Even my wife, an avowed tofu-hater, admitted, "Huh, it's actually good."

Not the highest compliment she's ever given me, but I'll take it.