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On a hot day, when you want a quick and simple lunch or supper, it's useful to remember the cook's old standby, hard-boiled eggs. When they are freshly cooked and still warm, they taste good even on their own, with just a light sprinkling of salt. They're a good choice when young children come over, as they especially enjoy eating "egg in the hand," as my cousin Michael used to call them.
When I was growing up in Washington, DC, I loved the classic American egg salad. Even in Paris, after my cooking exam to gain my Grand Diplome at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, instead of eating the fancy food I had just cooked, I turned to my favorite childhood comfort food: egg salad. I mashed a hard-boiled egg with homemade mayonnaise (which we always made with Dijon mustard) and ate it spread on a piece of baguette.
Egg salad plays an important role in Jewish cooking because in kosher meals, eggs can go with dairy or meat. In the US, egg salad is a highlight at Jewish delicatessens.
Gil Marks, author of Olive Trees and Honey, writes that for years a subject of ongoing debate at his synagogue has been whether to use raw or sauteed onions in Ashkenazi egg salad, a popular item at kiddush. The raw-onion version features mayonnaise, while the second type, made with sweet caramelized onions, is moistened with the oil used to saute them. Traditionally the onions were fried in schmaltz (chicken fat). He notes that you can add chopped celery, sauteed mushrooms, chopped cooked green beans, walnuts or sweet peppers. My mother sometimes added chopped celery, but as a child I felt this got in the way of the pure egg pleasure.
Ashkenazim are not the only ones who enjoy egg salad. Marks writes that Yemenites add chopped sour pickles and minced red chilies to their egg salad. These sound like tasty additions, but none of my Yemenite relatives makes it that way.
In Saveurs De Mon Enfance ("Tastes of My Childhood"), a French book on Moroccan Jewish cooking by Fortunee Hazan Arama, a delicate egg salad is made from sliced hard-boiled eggs sprinkled liberally with finely chopped parsley, then with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. A beet version of the salad is prepared the same way, but the eggs are set on a bed of sliced cooked beets.
Sonia Uvezian, author of The Cuisine of Armenia, writes that in her country, egg salad is made of sliced hard-boiled eggs alternating with red onion and green pepper slices, tomato wedges and black olives, with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, fresh mint and parsley, and a sprinkling of ground sumac. Georgians serve hard-boiled eggs in walnut sauce flavored with garlic, red wine vinegar, cayenne and fresh coriander.
A fancier variation of egg salad is stuffed eggs. They're composed basically of the same ingredients in a different presentation. You might consider them old fashioned, but several months ago, when I was at a party at a friend's house, the paprika-dusted deviled eggs were the first item to disappear from the buffet table. Both the teenagers and the adults eagerly added them to their plates.
According to Anya Van Bremzen and John Welchman, authors of Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook, stuffed eggs are popular in western Russia and in the Baltic republics: "The filling might be mushrooms in Byelorussia, sardines or anchovies in the Baltic, or caviar in Russia." To make a mushroom stuffing, they brown onions and mushrooms in butter, add cream and mustard, mash them with the egg yolks and add parsley, dill and a little mayonnaise. For Hungarian Jewish eggs, you mix the yolks with sauteed chopped onion, sweet paprika and prepared mustard. For other fillings for this cold appetizer, they suggest chopped cooked chicken livers, veal or chicken, smoked meat, or Parmesan cheese. Some cooks use smoked fish. Seasonings can include mustard, horseradish or chives.
If you frequent Sephardi cafes, you know that warm brown eggs are a delightful accompaniment for burekas. The similar brown eggs that bake in their shells overnight in Sephardi hamin (cholent) are, for many diners, the best part.
Recently I learned of an unusual way to make these brown eggs. Called "oeufs au sable" or "eggs in sand" in Evelyne and Ambroise Navarro's book, Manuel de Cuisine Pied-noir (or cooking manual of the "black-feet," as French people who lived in Algeria were called), the eggs were served with Algerian cholent, called tafina. You put a layer of sand in an earthenware pot, then a layer of eggs in their shells, and continue layering, with sand as the top layer. (Obviously you need clean sand!) You put the pot in the oven on Friday night and take it out on Saturday morning.
"Hard-boiled" eggs are actually easiest to make without much boiling. After the eggs are put in a pot of water and brought to a boil, they are left to stand in the hot water off the heat until they are firm.
If you've cooked the eggs a couple of days before, you can restore some of their fresh flavor by reheating them. Put them in a pot of hot water, cover them and let them stand for a few minutes. Don't microwave them whole, or they might explode. If you want to heat them in the microwave, cut them in half, set them on a plate and microwave them briefly.
HARD-BOILED EGGS WITH CURRY MAYONNAISE
This method is the easiest way to make hard-boiled eggs, as they don't usually burst open. Overcooking them can result in a dark ring around the yolks and rubbery whites.
Accompany these eggs and their orange-tinted sauce with crusty French bread, whole wheat bread or pita.
4 large eggs
2 tsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. finely chopped white part of green onions
11â„2 tsp. curry powder
1â„4 cup water
3â„4 cup mayonnaise
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried
3 small tomatoes, quartered, or
12 cherry tomatoes
Put eggs in a small saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse under cold water until eggs cool to room temperature.
Heat oil in small saucepan over low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft - about five minutes. Add curry powder and cook one minute. Add water and bring to a boil, stirring.
Simmer until liquid is reduced to about two tablespoons. Transfer to bowl and let cool to room temperature. Gradually whisk curry mixture into mayonnaise. Taste, and add salt and pepper if needed.
Tap eggs gently to lightly crack shells all over, and peel them. Rinse if necessary to remove any pieces of shell still stuck to eggs. Halve eggs lengthwise.
Arrange bed of lettuce leaves on a platter or individual plates.
Set eggs on lettuce, rounded side upward. Coat eggs with curry mayonnaise. Garnish platter or plates with tomatoes. Serve any remaining sauce separately.
Serves eight as first course or four as main dish for light brunch or lunch.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.