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Eat, Drink + Think

Shabbat Meals: An Artist’s Take on Bubby’s Egg and Onion Spread

I have a complicated relationship with egg salad. As a child I consumed it the way other kids inhaled fruit roll-ups. A creature of consistency, I demanded egg salad on challah every day for lunch. Then I went to the doctor, who determined I had the cholesterol of a 97 year-old Kentucky Fried Chicken employee. I was 9.

My egg salad days were swiftly replaced with peanut butter on whole wheat eternities, and egg salad became a Shabbat treat. We went to my Bubby’s for Shabbat dinner every week. There, she plied us with traditional Czech delicacies like schnitzel and palacinki (delicate crepes stuffed with fruit), and of course egg salad.

But Bubby’s egg salad was a far cry from the bright yellow, creamy, mustardy deli staple. It was a more mature, mayo-free affair made with chopped eggs and sautéed onions and dashed with sweet Hungarian paprika. Given its ratios it could’ve just as well been called onion salad. Bubby mushed it flat like a paté and served it as an appetizer, with chunky slabs of challah. It kept us busy while she finished readying dinner in her small kitchen, which smelled like sautéed onions, cigarettes and icing sugar.

We ate this egg salad for years. But as Bubby aged, her cooking suffered. In my university years she could no longer cook or taste with her former vigor. Though I have Bubby’s recipe books, she mostly cooked by memory. Her egg salad recipe nowhere to be found, I turned to the Internet for collective Bubby wisdom, and found myriad recipes that come close to but don’t seem to capture the taste as I remember it. And while Bubby loved Hallmark cards and soap operas, I don’t think she ever cooked with schmaltz. So I fashioned my own variation with vegetable oil, which tastes much like hers, minus a dash of nostalgia (no longer available at my local grocer).

Despite the fact that my high cholesterol has miraculously disappeared, the lingering fear of clogged arteries means I don’t eat egg salad with my youthful frequency. Which makes Bubby’s egg spread the perfect Passover Shabbat schmear. It’s delicious on matzo, easy to make and redolent of a time when Jews didn’t have such easy access to mayonnaise. Garnish with red peppers, tomatoes, olives or anything your un-enslaved heart desires.

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