In all the stress of the last few weeks I’d forgotten how much I appreciated your eccentricities. Your mustard-yellow subway cars, your Eckkneipen, your graffitied buildings. There’s just something great about a place where you can have a sit down meal and sip a cocktail at the laundromat, or get your teeth cleaned in David Bowie’s old apartment.
And then there’s the food. Berlin isn’t exactly famous for its cuisine, but there are some gems. The ubiquitous Currywurst and Döner-Kebap, of course, have become well known outside Germany. There’s also the famous Berliner-Weiße mixed with a splash of flavored syrup, and the weekend buffet-brunch for under 10 euros. It may not be high cuisine, but it’s special in its own quirky way.
Although I’ve been here before, I feel like I’m discovering Berlin all over again. It’s no surprise that my favorite part of moving somewhere new is going grocery shopping, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the options in my neighborhood of Schöneberg. Besides the convenient but otherwise uninteresting Lidl around the corner, there are a slew of smaller groceries and supermarkets that cater to the Turkish community, as well as several bakeries and butchers. There’s also Winterfeldtmarkt, a fabulous weekend market that I’ll rave more about in my next post.
This post is about the ingredients one can get from the Turkish supermarkets though, which are as quintessentially “Berlin” as anything else. The pure white cheeses, the sesame-dusted simit rings, and the bright-green peppers are some of my favorite things about shopping here.
Places like these bring back memories of my first time to Berlin on a snowy Christmas in 2005. I was studying in the U.K. at that point and had come to spend the holidays with friends who lived in a small place in Neukölln, the heart of Turkish Berlin. It was then that I was first mesmerized by this city and its many oddball attributes.
Excuse the following clichés, but Berlin really is unique, and it really is steeped in the history of the 20th century like no place else. For those of you back home, I hope you can come visit soon.
Eggs and Peppers Baked in Tomato Sauce (a.k.a. Berliner Shakshuka)
There are many versions of eggs poached in tomato sauce (called shakshuka in the Arabic-speaking Middle East), but I added the peppers and cheese because I wanted to make this for dinner and needed it to be more substantial. I also baked the eggs instead of poaching. A couple of notes: when choosing the tinned tomatoes, make sure you choose a high-quality brand with real tomatoes and not a tomato purée. The italian brands are usually good. For the cheese, I used the sour, soft white cheese available in most Turkish supermarkets in Berlin called “Dänische Käse”. You could also use a melting cheese like Chihuahua.
1 tin of whole tomatoes
1 small sweet yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
Several sprigs of thyme
3-4 banana peppers
1/4 lb soft white melting cheese, cut into strips
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Prepare the peppers by removing the seeds and veins but leaving the tops intact. (Hint: make a t-shaped incision with a knife and pull out the seeds and veins, making sure to wash your hands afterwards.) Place the strips of cheese into the peppers and set these aside.
Dice the onions and sauté over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet (e.g. cast iron) with olive oil until translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes, mashing them up with a fork or potato masher so that they break down and form a consistent sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and let this mixture come to a simmer.
When simmering, place the peppers face-up in the sauce. Let them cook for a few minutes, spooning hot sauce over them from time to time.
Once the peppers are a bit softer, turn the heat off and make wells for the eggs. Very carefully break the eggs into the wells so that they keep their shape and then put the whole skillet into the oven.
Bake just until the eggs are done to your liking- between 7 and 15 minutes should do.