Israeli food is delicious. It’s boldly flavored and its colors span the rainbow. But these days, while color is good, it’s comfort that many of us want. The future is uncertain; we hunger for food that is cozy and nostalgic.
A few months after the start of the pandemic, I spoke with Gil Hovav, a popular Israeli restaurant critic, cookbook author, and home cook. I asked him to describe his favorite salad, certain that he would surprise me with something creative, colorful, and boundary breaking. I was wrong.
“My favorite salad?” he said. “It’s my mother-in-law’s egg salad. It’s the simplest salad that I know how to make, and whenever I make it people start crying and ask for the recipe.” It couldn’t be easier: hard-boiled eggs, a ton of fried onions, sweet and brown, and a “shameless” amount of vegetable oil. “You could add scallions if you want to go fancy,” said Hovav.
I was surprised. An important Israeli food critic and that is his favorite salad? It isn’t colorful. It isn’t filled with interesting spices or fresh herbs. You won’t find any dukkah or preserved lemon or zhug mixed in. There isn’t even a hint of green from dill or parsley.
But I was motivated, too. No sooner did he describe the salad to me — one that is more brown than any other color — I was like a woman possessed. As soon as I got off the phone with him, I made it. And I have made that salad every week since, tweaking it slightly.
My childhood was filled with mashed salads, mostly things we ate on crackers. Chopped liver. Chopped celery and eggs. Chopped string beans. Chop up an ingredient, add hard-boiled eggs and fried onions and you end up with something delicious. The aroma of those fried onions makes your house feel like home.
Why does everyone Hovav knows love his egg salad? Why do friends now ask me to bring it to cocktail hour? Because it’s delicious. And nostalgic. And comforting. And easy. And we could all use some of that these days.
“When you hit the right flavor, the one that your soul remembers, it’s the right tone,” said Hovav.
- 10 extra-large eggs, hard boiled
- 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/4″ thick
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch metal frying pan. Once the oil is hot, add one slice of onion. If it sizzles, add the rest of the onion slices. Lower heat to medium. Sprinkle two teaspoons of kosher salt on the frying onions.
- Cook until the onions are brown and sweet, 35-40 minutes. Stir the onions every couple of minutes. You may have some onions around the edges of the pan that are crispy. Turn off the flame. Allow to cool.
- Peel the hard-boiled eggs and slice them in half. Place the cut eggs in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Pulse, 10 short, quick pulses. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Using a slotted spoon, add the browned onions together with the oil that clings to them. Pulse six times. Scrape down the sides, add more oil if the mixture looks dry, and pulse 10 more times, until coarsely chopped and the eggs and onions hold together.
- Spoon the chopped eggs and onions into a glass bowl. Taste for additional salt and add more oil from the frying pan if the mixture looks dry to you.
Note: You will be left with about ¼ cup of onion-flavored vegetable oil in your pan. Save it and use it again. The fragrant oil will add deliciousness to your next dish.