Happy Spring, ladies, gentlemen, and culinarians of all ages!
Eggs are the quinteggsential symbol of spring – in fact, they are ripe with symbolism in general! They are symbols of rebirth and renewal across many cultures and religions, and in others are seen as symbols of luck and wealth. It is even said that a chef’s toque has 100 pleats in honor of the 100 ways to cook an egg. As not only a symbolic food, but such an iconic food, present in nearly every known cuisine on earth, of course I wanted to write my article for the first official month of Spring!
Spring is the time for Passover, Easter, and of course, Greek Easter! In Judaism, hardboiled eggs have a place on the seder plate as a symbol of spring and the circle of life; in Christian religions, eggs are dyed bright, happy shades to evoke spring feelings – though the original meaning was to symbolize the tomb from which Jesus arose.
In Greek culture, Easter Eggs are serious business! There are a number of stories for why they are dyed red, but the one I like the most has it that an unknown woman, who wouldn’t believe the news of Christ’s resurrection, said that she would believe it only when the eggs she had been holding turned red; miraculously, they changed as soon as she spoke the words.
Traditionally, the eggs are usually dyed a very deep red on the Thursday before Easter. This particular Thursday is called Red Thursday, or Kokkini Pempti. Nothing is done on Good Friday as a sign of respect; everyone fasts on Holy Saturday, and Sunday is a celebration of his divine nature and of the true arrival of spring!
We also play a fun game called tsougrisma and it involves two players and red eggs.
- Each player holds a red egg, and taps the end of it lightly against the end of the other player’s egg. The goal is to crack the opponent’s egg. When one end is cracked, the winner uses the same end to try to crack the other end of the opponent’s egg.
- The player who successfully cracks the eggs of the other players is declared the winner and, it is said, will have good luck during the year.
Of course, even with all the symbology and tradition, first and foremost, eggs are a food! The question is often asked what came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, chickens do come from eggs, and are an incredible source of protein and nutrition – in fact, eggs are one of the most nutritionally complete foods on the planet!
When I first came to New York in 2011, I would go to the grocery store to buy the basics. The first time I was in the egg section, I was shocked by how many different varieties there were—medium, large, extra-large, organic, cage-free, free-range… the list goes on! I decided to buy half a dozen extra-large, and half a dozen free-range—I didn’t know what the difference meant because, in Greece, an egg is an egg, especially at the village marketplace.
I quickly discovered something interesting. The regular extra-large eggs were awful! They had a terrible flavor and smell, and their yolks were light yellow. I had never seen one with a yolk that color. But then I cracked open one of the free-range eggs and saw something different—a rich, orange-colored yolk. This, I thought to myself, was an egg.
Eggs are a super nutrient-dense food, full of almost all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients a human-being needs, as well as being an excellent source of high-quality protein, and all for a mere 70 calories. However, when it comes to the color of the shell, as well as the yolk, the life the hen leads has everything to do with it. This is why pasture raised, cage free, organic varieties have such deeply hued yolks. However, when it comes to the nutritional value encased in that magical shell, these well-kept hens provide us humans with lower cholesterol values and more vitamins – though, the fat and protein remain consistent across yolk shades.
Much like the hen that laid the egg, eggs are incredibly versatile to use in all kinds of recipes; they can be the star of the plate, play a supporting role as a component, or can function behind the scenes as an ingredient, making everything work together. Think of a soufflé or a chiffon cake – eggs are crucial components of those types of recipes, and yet they are not quinteggsential dishes! Eggs appear in savory and sweet recipes, in all capacities, and all are excellent!
One of my most favorite savory recipes is a dish known as Kayana, which is like a Greek-style Shakshuka or Huevos Rancheros. It starts with a tomato base, either fresh or canned, and cooked down with some tomato paste to create a rich base of flavors. You can sauté some onions and garlic before adding the tomatoes, or build the flavor in the tomatoes with your preferred spices and/or fresh herbs…and once the base has been built, simply crack your eggs into the saucy tomato goodness, add more of your favorite herbs and spices, and cover briefly to allow to cook through to your liking. Finish the dish with some pieces of feta, allowing the feta to soften and lend a creaminess to the plate, without melting into it.
Whether you enjoy sunny side up, over easy/medium/hard, scrambled, poached, hardboiled, soft-boiled, or as a binding agent for sauces, soups, pies, etc, one thing is clear – eggs truly eggsemplify the versatility of what a person can do with one ingredient – a truly eggsellent example. Kalí órexi! Enjoy your meal!
Don’t forget— Chef Maria Loi has the Loi Specialty Shop at The Plaza Hotel NYC (open through end of May 2022).