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A few years ago, my husband and I visited a small delicatessen in south Tel Aviv, in an area that some people referred to as "the Turkish neighborhood." At the deli, we asked to have sandwiches with some of the spreads and cheeses they carried. The owner said, "We don't have any bread, but if you get some fresh rolls from the Turkish bakery across the street, I will make you really good sandwiches." My husband willingly obliged, and we were rewarded with terrific sandwiches.
When I asked the deli owner about the tasty spread in my sandwich, he told me it was vegetarian chopped liver made from squash. I then remembered that I had learned to make a similar salad in one of the first cooking classes I ever attended, given by Wizo in Tel Aviv in the early Seventies. It was a very simple spread made of sautÃ©ed grated zucchini, onions and hard-boiled eggs. For some reason, his tasted richer, probably because it was made with good olive oil.
When I arrived home, I searched in my cookbook library and found that Appetizers, Snacks and Salads (in Hebrew) by Ruth and Elazar Markin features such a salad as a substitute for chopped liver, or as an addition to the liver in order to stretch it. When used this way, the Markins recommend frying the squash with onions in chicken fat until they turn golden. To give their spread more substance, they sautÃ© soaked bread with the vegetables. After grinding the mixture, they add hard-boiled eggs and season the spread with a little soy sauce, which gives it a brown hue.
Later, I found that these spreads may have a Russian connection. At an Eastern European/Middle Eastern supermarket in Los Angeles, I came across a vegetable spread sold as ikra, which looked completely different from the Romanian fish roe patÃ© of that name that I had grown to love in Israel. Instead of fish roe, this patÃ© was a mixture of squash, eggplant and other vegetables. The name puzzled me until I found the explanation in a book by Darra Goldstein, A La Russe. In the Caucasus region, wrote Goldstein, this type of salad, made of eggplant or squash, is so popular that it is called ikra, which means caviar, and is served the same way, on thick slices of black bread. She prepares it by heating chopped baked squash or eggplant with onions, green peppers and garlic sautÃ©ed in olive oil, then simmers the mixture with tomatoes until very thick and serves it cold.
At the same supermarket, I found cans of squash ikra, which was translated on the label as squash paste for serving with fresh rye bread. When squash is out of season, Russians buy this canned or bottled spread as a substitute for the fresh patÃ©.
Lynn Visson, author of The Complete Russian Cookbook, makes several versions of these spreads. One calls for sliced yellow squash or zucchini sautÃ©ed in vegetable oil with chopped onion, then pureed with tomato paste, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and served chilled, sprinkled with chopped green onions. For another, she combines baked squash with baked eggplant and a medley of fried onion, cabbage, carrots and green onions. This, too, is finished with tomato paste and vinegar. She notes that Russians also make such vegetable patÃ©s from mushrooms and from beets. All are served on black bread.
Ukrainians like squash spreads, too, according to N. I. Georgievsky, author of Ukrainian Cuisine. Like the Russian patÃ©s, the Ukrainians make theirs from sautÃ©ed squash and onions simmered with tomatoes. They then flavor the mixture with garlic, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
Benny Saida, who wrote What a Salad (in Hebrew), makes a spicy squash salad of coarsely grated squash fried in oil with onion. When the mixture is cool, he adds grated hard-boiled eggs and a little mayonnaise. His version features lots of garlic and a heaping spoonful of hot red pepper. Nobody would call zucchini bland after tasting a salad like that!
SAUTEED SUMMER SQUASH SPREAD
Marian Morash, author of The Victory Garden Cookbook, feels that sautÃ©ing is the best way to bring out the flavor of summer (soft-shelled) squash. If you are concerned that the squash will be too watery, she has a solution: She grates it, salts it and lets it drain before sautÃ©ing it. She sautÃ©s the squash in butter, but you can use the same technique whether you choose to sautÃ© it in chicken fat, olive oil or vegetable oil.
To give this spread a richer flavor, add the mayonnaise or the ground walnuts. Serve the patÃ© with dark bread, rye bread or fresh pita, or use it in sandwiches with smoked turkey or other cold cuts.
700 gr. pale green-skinned summer
squash (kishuim), zucchini or yellow
squash, coarsely grated
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped fine
cayenne pepper to taste
2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely grated
1 to 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise (optional)
1â„4 cup walnuts, ground (optional)
If you like, sprinkle the squash with salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Also if you like, rinse to remove the salt, then drain well. Squeeze by handfuls to remove the excess water.
Heat three tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add onions and sautÃ© over medium-low heat for eight minutes or until soft and beginning to brown. Add squash, salt and pepper. SautÃ© over medium heat for five minutes or until tender and any excess moisture has evaporated.
Transfer mixture to a bowl and let cool. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper. Lightly stir in hard-boiled eggs. If you like, stir in mayonnaise or walnuts. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve cold.
Makes about six servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.