Back in April I wrote a post about my Aunt Hilda’s Carrot Vichyssoise. At the time I was writing the history of my paternal grandfather’s family, and I thought it would be a nice idea to include a chapter of favorite family recipes. In order to help me write the recipe chapter, my cousin Nina lent me our Grandma Fran’s recipe collection—a small metal filing box packed with handwritten index cards that Nina had kept after Grandma died. I started making some of the recipes, and a spooky thing happened: I suddenly felt as if my grandmother had returned from beyond (in the feel-good way, not the bloodthirsty zombie way). So cancel that seance—if you want to reconnect with a long-gone loved one, just whip up one of his or her signature dishes. Oh, and on a related note, be sure you leave behind a signature dish.
One of the recipes in Grandma’s collection was this vegetarian chopped liver that uses hard-boiled eggs, onions, and walnuts. I have only a vague recollection of this particular dish of hers, but in a coincidental two-for-one twist, I do remember my mother making something similar when I was very little. Mom used to sautée onions to the point of being slightly burnt and then mash them with hard-boiled eggs—a recipe she learned from some Moroccan Jewish friends. I used to go nuts for the smell and taste of the burnt onions, because, as Mark Bittman describes, “Something happens when onions blacken a bit, and it’s something good and unusual: they become super-sweet, yes, but also quite bitter, in a pleasant way.” So although Grandma didn’t specifically call for burning the onions, that’s how I’ve interpreted her recipe here.
- ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
- 3 large yellow onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- ¾ cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it’s melted and just beginning to bubble (make sure not to let it burn).
- Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, medium brown in color, and slightly burnt (30 to 40 minutes). The technique is just like caramelizing, but you take it a step or two further. The goal is a darker brown color and nice little burnt bits—but don’t go too far.
- When onions are done, add eggs, walnuts, and salt. Chop and mix well. Pop the mixture into a food processor if you want a more realistic chopped-liver texture, pulsing until smooth. I usually leave a few chunks unprocessed, as shown in the photo above. (Sometimes I just skip the food processing step altogether.)
- This dish is delicious served warm, but room temperature is good too.
Makes about 2 cups.