Ask Peter: Working person's eggs
I have seen the pictures of the Cilbir you cooked at the recent Orphans Kitchen breakfast popping up all over social media. I really wish I could have been there to experience this dish, and would like to have a go at making it at home. Would you supply the recipe or tips on how to make it? Kris
Cilbir (pronounced chil-bir), or Turkish eggs as they’re better known, thanks to having them on our menu at The Providores in London for the last 16 years, are a common enough dish in Turkey.
They’re affectionately known as “prostitute’s eggs”, which may be off-putting to some of my Bite readers, but there is a very popular classic Italian pasta sauce, puttanesca, which pretty much translates to “whore’s pasta”. Both dishes are quick to knock up and are high in protein. After all, a working woman (or man) needs to be on call immediately, not waiting in the kitchen for a slow cooker!
I first ate cilbir 17 years ago on a gulet, the typical wooden yachts that sail in Turkey, when I was a guest sailing along the Bodrum coast. I thought they were incredibly delicious and thought about them quite often. What I was served that first time differs slightly to my own version in two ways.
In Turkey they add a good portion of chopped raw garlic to the yoghurt, and the chilli butter is made differently.When we opened The Providores in 2001 I put them on our first breakfast menu, confident they’d do well. Initially, however, they weren’t big-sellers.
For the first two days I served them with the raw garlic in the yoghurt, but every customer complained that the garlic breath it caused was off-putting for business meetings. I soon realised that what was traditional in Turkey wasn’t going down so well in Marylebone.
Apart from that the recipe we serve hasn’t changed at all. In fact, they have proven so popular that they migrated from our breakfast menu on to the all-day menu and we are just as likely to be serving them at 10pm as we are at 9am.
The other thing that’s happened is that they have become part of the London brunch (and Instagram #turkisheggs) scene, much like eggs benedict have been for decades and shakshuka has in recent years.
When we first opened The Sugar Club in the Sky Tower we served weekend brunch, and they were on the menu. But we quickly realised our Auckland customers were coming to us for our small plates menu, rather than an eggy start to the day, so brunch and my cilbir disappeared.
Last year my friend Natasha MacAller asked if I would share my recipe for her new fabulous book, Spice Heroes, which I happily agreed to. It’s a terrific cookbook looking at spices from a culinary and medicinal view with recipes created by Tash, as well as her group of cheffy mates from New Zealand and around the world.
Then just a few months ago my friend Nigella Lawson released her latest book, At My Table, and the first recipe in it is her version of my cilbir — which I was thrilled about. It’s also the first recipe she cooks on the BBC television show accompanying the book.
At My Table is a fabulous book focusing on recipes for the food she serves at home, with her usual brilliant writing — which shines through in her recipe introductions.
It also seems I can’t stop mentioning Niue. For the farewell breakfast of the Savour Niue tour I hosted, and which I’ve recently written about in Bite, I served these eggs. The breakfast also included a breadfruit and luku (bird’s nest fern frond) frittata, smoked moon-fish kedgeree, a fabulous fruit salad and other things, so we served just 1 egg per portion in a small cereal bowl. People loved them.
So, from the Eastern Mediterranean through to the mid-Pacific and the shopping streets of London, I guarantee you’ll love to cook and make these, and I guarantee you’ll Instagram them if that’s your medium!
Cilbir (Turkish eggs)
I use a generous amount of the mild and seedless but truly tasty chilli flake called kirmizi biber, which is also known as Aleppo chilli. If I can’t find it, I use Korean chilli flakes, gochugaru, as they likewise give the buttery oil a delicious red hue and a mild punch. I always serve these with toast. Get the recipe