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October 4, 2019
Hold the Mayo, Bring the Heat

A Turkish way with egg salad that leans into the fiery, citrusy chile flakes of the Middle East.

You got your creamy yolks. You got your creamy mayonnaise. You bind the two, accented with small-diced red onion and celery, Dijon mustard, salt, and a slap of lemon juice. Egg salad: a companionable pabulum and one of my all-time-favorite sandwich fillings.

What if the mayonnaise absconds? What if, in its stead, big-boned extra-virgin olive oil appears? What if the onion and celery and mustard bench themselves, and fruity dried chile flakes and heaps of fresh parsley step forward? Turkish egg salad: a specialty of Turkey’s southeastern Hatay province, situated smack between the Mediterranean Sea and northern Syria. The spiky dish is featured in Robyn Eckhardt’s excellent Istanbul and Beyond. It is one of my (now) all-time-favorite sandwich fillings. And breakfasts.

Eckhardt notes that “Hatay cooks love punchy flavors.” Pomegranate molasses; hot fresh and dried chiles; cumin, coriander, and wild mountain thyme. In a classic local specialty, sürk, farmer’s cheese, is drained, then mixed with hot red pepper paste, thyme, cumin, and sesame seeds and gently dehydrated. The region’s egg salad is treated much the same, dwindling the richness and aggrandizing the seasoning.

How to make Turkish egg salad

First, a disquisition on the best method for cooking eggs for egg salad. Me, I am a steamer. I use a wok loaded with a bamboo steamer insert. You could, of course, use a collapsible metal insert in a saucepan. You want the water below the steamer at a hard boil. Ten minutes of vapor provides my optimal yolks: firm but yielding and the slightest bit jammy. Yes, you can boil your eggs, but they tend to be harder to peel and for their doneness to be unreliable. Steaming is best. I said what I said.

As the eggs steam (or, if you must, boil), fill a large bowl with ice and cold water. Add the cooked eggs straightaway to the bowl. Let cool a few minutes, roll each on the counter to crack their shells, and peel. Cut the eggs into lengthwise quarters, then cut each quarter crosswise. This strategy ups your chances of the yolks and whites remaining somewhat intact and bound to each other, rather than crumpling into an eggy welter.

How to make Turkish egg salad

You then want to bombard the eggs with dried chile flakes. The which and the how much depends. Aleppo pepper would be ideal, but the Syrian Civil War has hamstrung the supply of those mellow, maroon chiles. Marash pepper or another similar Turkish pepper would be a fine substitute. In a (tiny) pinch, the standard fiery red chile flakes of the American pantry would suffice. Use less though. Chop parsley leaves and their thin stems into largish pieces. You want green, bracing crunch. Add kosher or coarse salt and good olive oil. Stir. Gently.

I prefer my kicky egg salad at room temperature. Maybe served open-faced on focaccia or another spongy, sturdy bread. You could chill it; Eckhardt recommends doing so as an option. It would go well in the morning alongside olives and cheese and bread. Egg salad: It’s what’s for breakfast.

RECIPE: Spicy Turkish Egg Salad

Scott Hocker

Scott Hocker is a writer, editor, recipe developer, cookbook author, and content and editorial consultant. He has worked in magazines, kitchens, newsletters, restaurants and a bunch of other environments he can’t remember right now. He has also been the editor in chief of both liquor.com and Tasting Table.