Huevos Haminados

No less than twelve large brown paper bags spilled out of the kitchen for us to unpack when my father finished the Passover shopping. Every one, it seemed, contained at least one box of matzoh and a dozen eggs.

The matzoh lasted long after the eight-day holiday, when all our inventiveness had evaporated and we had thoroughly tired of eating it. But my father had to buy more eggs after just three or four days.

Eggs are indispensable for Passover cooking. Traditional favorites, like matzoh brie, knaidlach, and bubelach, little fritters, call for heaps of eggs to be mixed with matzoh or matzoh meal. And six to ten at a time, they are beaten into baked goods, replacing the forbidden leavening.

Symbol of life’s mysteries and rebirth, they play a prominent role at the seder. There is the beinah, or roasted egg, on the seder plate. Then most Ashkenazi Jews dip hard-boiled eggs into salt water, a practice that food historian John Cooper traces back to the hors d’oeuvre served at ancient Roman banquets.

The Sephardi seder favorite, huevos haminados, which are also served at life-cycle events and the Sabbath or holiday midday meal, were originally cooked on top of flavorful meats and legumes in hamins, the slowly braised Sabbath stews. But when hamin is not on the menu, or pareve eggs are desired, they are prepared as in this recipe, cradled in onion skins and gently simmered overnight in the oven or on top of the stove. Spent coffee grinds, or sometimes tea leaves, are added to the roasting materials for additional flavor. My friend Leyla Schick laughingly bemoaned the current paucity of cigarette smokers among her friends because some Turkish Jews claim a smidgin of cigarette ash enhances the roasted taste.

And what is the taste of a roasted egg? Huevos haminados are somewhat similar to the hard-boiled variety, but long hours of gentle cooking give them a softer texture, tender, never rubbery, and a rich, oniony fragrance.

Forget the discarded cigarette ashes. But do remember to save all your onion peels as they accumulate from cooking chores, storing them in a large perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator until needed.

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Ingredients

  • 4–5 packed cups outer skins of onions, rinsed if dirty
  • 12 large eggs, in the shell (make sure the shells have no cracks)
  • 2 tablespoons coffee grounds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Arrange half the onion skins on the bottom of a large ovenproof pot or casserole. Put the eggs on top. If the eggs are tightly packed, or if you must place the eggs in two layers, use additional onion skins to cradle them. Add the coffee grounds, oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover with the remaining onion skins. Pour in 2 quarts of cold water, adding a little more if necessary to cover the eggs. Cover the pot tightly and bake in the oven for at least 8 hours or overnight.
  2. Remove the eggs and wipe them clean. Serve plain, hot, warm, or cold. Leftover eggs are easy to reheat. They are also wonderful sliced in salads (they make a terrific egg salad) or as a garnish for saucy stewed vegetables, like ratatouille.

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