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A Sephardic Specialty

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    Posted: 25 October 2016 at 08:57
It’s not often that you find a dish unique to one culture or ethnic group. The very nature of cooking is such that similar dishes can be found globally.

One exception: Huevos Haminados; eggs cooked low and slow. These are unique to the Sephardim, and are, with one possible exception, not found in any other cuisine. This is so true that previous to the Expulsion of 1492, preparing them was prima fascia evidence of Jewishness in Iberia. Conversos caught eating them were deemed, by the Inquisition, as being secret Jews, and subject to execution as heretics.

As some of you know, I’m in the midst of a major exploration of Sephardic cuisine. But this dish is so intriguing I wanted to share it right away.

For those of you unfamiliar with them, the Sephardim are Iberian Jews who were expelled from Spain, in 1492 (along with their Moorish neighbors, btw), and Portugal, in 1498. They went through a diaspora, with some traveling along the northern Med, and others through North Africa, until reaching the welcoming arms of the Ottoman Empire. Many settled in those various countries, along the way. Sephardic cuisine was influenced by, and, in turn, influenced, the various cuisines they were exposed to.

We’ll have more to say about this when I write up my Sephardic exploration later on.

Variously translated as “Jewish Eggs,” or “Onion Skin Eggs,” Heuvos Haminados were a dish prepared for the Sabbath Meal, primarily. Cooking is considered work, which is forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath. So many foods were developed to cook long and slow, with no attention by the cook. Most often these were done in an oven or in the ashes of a cook fire. Anytime a Sephardic dish has the word “hamin” in it you can count on it being a Sabbath dish. “Hamin” translates several ways, but has come to mean “in the oven.” Stews, soups, and what we would call pot roasts, are other instances of such dishes.

Heuvos Hamindados are also always included, among the Sephardim, on the ritualistic Seder plate, served during the Passover meal.

Nowadays, heuvos haminados are almost always prepared by slow cooking in water, at a sub-simmering point, for at least five to seven hours. When made in the oven they are cooked overnight as the lowest heat possible.

Anyone who has ever made hard boiled eggs would naturally think this would cause them to harden up, with rubbery whites. In fact, the whites become tender, and the yolks take on a creamy texture.

The basic procedure is the same. Fresh eggs are put in a pot and covered with a fair amount of onion skins. For to six cups is a typical amount. Sephardic housewives would save their onion skins from the week’s cooking to use for this purpose. But your local grocer will be happy to let you take all the loose skins you want from the bin.

Sometimes tea leaves or coffee grounds would also be added, to enrich the color.

Water is then added to the pot, to cover the eggs and skins, and a small amount of vinegar added. Some housewives would also include a garlic clove or other aromatics. The pot is covered and put on a very low fire. The water is allowed to heat to a very slow simmer, but you don’t want bubbles to form.

When removed from the fire and rinsed in cold water, the egg shells have a deep, rich brown color, and the egg whites take on a beautiful beige color. The whites will be tender, and the yolks have a more or less creamy consistency; not at all like the graininess of regular hard-cooked egg whites. Supposedly, due to the porosity of egg shells, there will be a faint oniony flavor as well, but I haven’t had that happen.

According to Harold McGee, you could use this procedure with plain water, and the egg whites will still take on that beige color, even though the shells remain white. He contends it is caused not by the color of the onion water, but is actually a variation of the Malliard reaction. Sugars in the albumen actually caramelize from the heat. In short, the whites are browning, as they do when you caramelize condensed milk. I’ll take his word for it.

I mentioned one possible exception to the uniqueness of these eggs. Paula Wolfert found Moroccans who made slow-cooked eggs by putting them in charcoal coals to cook overnight, with the same color-change. However, Sephardim who had fled to Morocco after the Expulsion (along with their Moorish neighbors) also used that technique. The likely scenario is that the Moors, and, subsequently, Moroccans, learned it from them.

While I’m planning to try these in the oven, I have, so far, only made them the more modern way, on the stovetop. Even made like that there are numerous variations on the theme. I’ve tried several, but here’s the one I prefer:

HUEVOS HAMINADOS
(Onion-Skin or Jewish Eggs #2)


8 eggs     
3-4 cups brown or red onion skins
¼ cup tea leaves or 1 ½ cups coffee grounds
¼ cup olive oil     
1 tbls red wine vinegar

Put eggs in a large saucepan. Cover them with the onion skins and tea leaves or coffee grounds, then add the olive oil, vinegar, and water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to very low, cover the pan tightly, and simmer gently for 6 hours, adding more water as needed to maintain original level.

Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s “Sephardic Flavors.”


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 October 2016 at 09:39
Nice, Brook!

I agree - it looks like you did root out a dish that is truly and exclusively a creation of the Sephardim. It makes perfect sense that the Moors adopted the technique from them, especially, as you mention, when this dish was used as an indication of Jewishness on the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition.

Aside from that, it sounds very good. I have gotten into the habit of eating a boiled egg for breakfast each morning, but will have to try this for variety. Do they store well (in the refrigerator), or is this something that should be eaten when finished?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 October 2016 at 12:53
Good question, Ron.

I usually only make these six or eight at a time, and they last long enough in the fridge for me to go through them.

No reason I can think of, though, that they shouldn't last at least as long as regular boiled eggs. Call it a week, anyway.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Hoser Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 October 2016 at 03:21
Interesting Brook.....does the onion skin and vinegar get into the shell and flavor the whites at all?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote HistoricFoodie Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 October 2016 at 06:57
The literature on that is mixed, Dave.

Some sources say there is an oniony flavor imparted to the egg because the shells are porous. Others either don't mention this, or say not.

I haven't gotten that effect. I suspect this may have to do with the freshness of the skins. Mine were fully dry outer skins, from the basket at Krogers. But Sephardic housewives merely saved them up all week, and there would be the added freshness factor.

Might be something to do with the amount of water as well. The more water, the more diluted any onion essense would be.

Some say the eggs, in addition to changing color, take on a nutty, almost meaty flavor, with one source actually comparing them to roast beef.

I've not had them caramelize enough for that. The color---both of the shells and the eggs---is gorgeous. And I do get a not-usual taste that, in a pinch, I could describe as slightly nutty.

This is one reason I want to try them in the oven, and, eventually, in warm coals, just to see what differences there may be.

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