Too many Easter eggs! What to do with them? For an answer far more palatable than a week of egg salad, look to the Orient. You'll discover the splendors of savory egg dishes that will make using up leftovers much less odious.
Robustness is the characteristic that distinguishes Asian egg preparations from most Western-style dishes. In the West, people eat eggs mostly for breakfast, usually soft cooked, poached or hard cooked and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. And while they may be scrambled or fried or even turned into omelets and tortillas and frittatas, the seasonings usually remain tame.
With Eastern creativity in using spices, herbs and seasoning sauces, the Chinese have a delicious egg dish for every course of a meal. They might begin with egg drop soup, sometimes called by its more poetic name of egg flower soup, which is just chicken stock with beaten eggs stirred in. And they might elaborate this familiar starter with tomatoes, lettuce or sweet corn. They might move on to pork and egg dumpling appetizers, the egg skin formed by swirling beaten egg in an oiled soup ladle, and porcelain tea eggs, the surface marbled brown by a long soak in a spiced soy sauce and tea broth.
Everyone knows the main dish egg foo yung, the egg patty filled with mushrooms and crab meat or shredded chicken breast and topped with a flavorful brown sauce. But it is not the only Chinese omelet. A version with a Chinese name that means hibiscus (because it resembles that flower in appearance) can be prepared with egg whites only.
Then there are chicken velvet, with its smooth coating of egg white, and braised steak with hard-cooked eggs. At a banquet meal when more than the usual dessert bowl of fruit is called for, there might be steamed Chinese-style sponge cake flavored with brown sugar or sweet lotus seed tea with hard-cooked eggs.
The Chinese, always a frugal people, have found ways to preserve their abundant but fragile duck eggs, which have a stronger taste and more oil than hen eggs. When preserved in a coating of wood chips, lime, salt and pine ash for 100 days, they often are called "hundred-year-old eggs" or by the even more hyperbolic "thousand-year-old eggs." Oriental groceries store them in wooden buckets. When the eggs are ready to be eaten, the shells must be washed to remove the coating and then peeled. Inside, the egg is as firm as a hard-cooked egg, the now jelly-clear white portion converted to blue-green jewel tones, the yolk a greenish-yellow. With their very rich taste, almost like a double-cream cheese, hundred-year-old eggs form part of a cold appetizer platter at banquets, accompanied by pickled ginger, vinegar and soy sauce.
Salted duck eggs, another form of preserved eggs, are soaked in a brine mixed with charcoal. As the salt penetrates the shell, the yolk solidifies and the white takes on a pleasantly salty flavor. Also available in Oriental groceries, these eggs will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks. They must be washed before they are served, usually hard-cooked in soups, perhaps one made with fish and fragrant coriander, or with congee (rice gruel). Combined with hen eggs, they produce a piquant omelet. Dried in the sun, the yolks come to look like dried apricots and are a favorite filling for harvest moon cakes.
Quail eggs, another Chinese delicacy, are steamed and their speckled brown shells peeled away. Then they may be bathed in a brown sauce or floated in chicken soup. The specialty markets and the Oriental groceries stock them fresh, but the canned variety, already hard-cooked, also is serviceable; the Japanese skewer, bread and deep-fry them. Fresh raw quail eggs nestled in a bed of grated daikon (giant white radish) or perched on top of seasoned rice are eaten at sushi bars.
Another sushi-bar specialty is chawan-mushi, a savory steamed egg custard. The eggs are mixed with dashi or chicken stock and poured through a sieve over selected solid tidbits such as shredded chicken breast, shrimp, chestnuts, water chestnuts, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots or green beans placed in the bottom of special lidded cups. Custard cups, ramekins or any other heatproof cups work well with crimped aluminum foil placed over the top to keep in the steam.
Egg tofu makes an interesting substitute for the real thing in an emergency. Actually an unsweetened egg custard steamed in a square baking pan, it is served in Japan seasoned with dashi and soy sauce for a nourishing snack, hot or cold.
In Indonesia, people like sambal goreng telu, translated as chili-fried eggs, and pindang telur, or spiced eggs, both garlicky and peppery hot versions of hard-cooked eggs. Son-in-law eggs are hard-cooked duck eggs deep-fried with chilies, and the Javanese omelet is concocted of eggs fried with onions and chilies and seasoned with sweet, thick Javanese soy sauce called ketjap manis or ketjap benteng.
The Straits Chinese, who make their home in Singapore and who have developed a distinct cuisine that is a combination of traditional mainland Chinese dishes influenced by Indian and Malaysian spices, enjoy a dish called jar gar nan, which combines hard-cooked eggs with green beans, cabbage, potatoes, bean curd and spinach. When ground chilies, roasted peanuts and dried fish are mixed in, the special flavor emerges.
On the Indian subcontinent, where so many are vegetarians, egg dishes are primarily curries, each dish made distinct by a unique combination of seasonings and additional ingredients. Coconut milk is likely to be an ingredient, but not necessarily, and the dishes may or may not be spicy. Often dal (Indian lentils) or green vegetables play a role. Pickled eggs, preserved in vinegar with spices, are a favorite condiment. In neighboring Thailand, a dish lyrically named golden silk is created by the complicated process of dropping egg yolks through a funnel into boiling sugar syrup.
Despite the bad press that eggs sometimes receive because of their cholesterol content, the egg is almost a complete food in itself. It provides protein and all the essential amino acids, most essential minerals and all but Vitamin C of the essential vitamins -- all this for only 80 to 100 calories. CHAWAN-MUSHI (Japanese savory egg custard) (4 servings) 3 ounces raw chicken breast 1 teaspoon sake or dry sherry 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce 4 dried black mushrooms 4 small shrimp, peeled and deveined 4 small water chestnuts 4 eggs 2 1/2 cups chicken broth 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 tablespoon mirin (or substitute 1 teaspoon sugar) 4 sprigs watercress or 4 spinach leaves, shredded, or 4 small squares of nori seaweed (or substitute 2 snow peas, halved) 1 tablespoon finely chopped scallions
Cut chicken into 4 pieces. Combine sake and 1 teaspoon soy sauce and marinate chicken in mixture 15 minutes. Drain well. Pour boiling water to cover mushrooms and let stand 15 minutes.. Drain and squeeze dry. Remove and discard stems. Blanch shrimp 1 minute. Divide chicken, mushrooms, shrimp and water chestnuts among 4 heatproof 8-ounce cups. Beat eggs thoroughly but gently so as not to create bubbles. Combine chicken broth, salt, mirin and 1 tablespoon soy sauce and stir into eggs without creating bubbles. Pour the mixture through a strainer into the prepared cups. Divide watercress and scallions among the cups. Cover cups with aluminum foil and crimp edges to seal tightly. Place on a rack in a high-sided baking pan filled with enough boiling water to reach 3/4 of the way up sides of cups. Bake in a 425-degree oven 30 minutes. Custard is done when the tip of a thin-bladed knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not overcook. Carefully lift cups from water and serve immediately. INDIAN EGG CURRY (2 servings) 1 tablespoon oil 1 onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, chopped 1/4 teaspoon black pepper 2 teaspoons cumin 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (optional) 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander 1 cup water 2 medium potatoes, cooked and halved 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 2 small tomatoes, quartered 1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
Heat oil and brown onion and garlic. Add pepper, cumin, turmeric, salt, chili powder and ground coriander and fry 2 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and eggs, cut-side up. Simmer 10 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Garnish with tomatoes and coriander. INDONESIAN SAMBAL GORENG TELU (Chili-fried eggs) (3 servings) 1 cup oil for deep frying 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled 2 teaspoons dried tamarind (or substitute 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind) 2 tablespoons warm water 10 dried red chilies, soaked (or substitute 2 teaspoons ground chili) 2 fresh red chilies 1 onion 1 teaspoon blacan (dried shrimp paste) or anchovy paste 3 cloves garlic 2 1/2 tablespoons oil plus extra as needed 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sugar
Heat oil and deep-fry eggs until golden. Drain on paper towels. Soak tamarind (if using) in water for 10 minutes. Squeeze and strain and reserve 2 tablespoons of liquid. In an electric blender grind chilies, onion, blacan and garlic into a fine paste. (Add a little oil if necessary to keep machine running.) Heat oil in a skillet and fry paste, stirring frequently, 5 minutes. Add tamarind water or lemon juice and grated rind, salt and sugar and simmer 1 minute. Add eggs and simmer 1 minute longer. Serve hot or at room temperature. JAR GAR NAN (Straits Chinese eggs and vegetables) (10 servings) 1 pound freshly roasted peanuts 1/2 to 1 tablespoon ground chili 1 cup tamarind water made from 4 ounces tamarind pulp (or substitute 4 tablespoons lemon juice and enough water to equal 1 cup) 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon anchovy paste 1/4 pound green beans, cut french-style and blanched 1 pound spinach, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched 1/2 pound cabbage, finely shredded and blanched 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled, boiled and sliced 10 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved 6 cubes fresh bean curd, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and deep-fried until crisp Chop peanuts coarsely. Combine chili, strained tamarind water, salt, sugar and anchovy paste. Add water if needed to thin sauce. Arrange vegetables, eggs and bean curd separately on a large platter and pour sauce over top. Adapted from "South East Asian Food" by Rosemary Brissenden CHINESE QUAIL EGGS IN BROWN SAUCE (6 servings) 2 dozen quail eggs 2 tablespoons soy sauce Flour for coating 4 cups oil for deep frying 12 tender hearts of green vegetable such as Chinese broccoli, cabbage, bok choy (or substitue snow peas) 1/2 carrot 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1 tablespoon corn starch 1/2 cup chicken broth 5 tablespoons peanut oil 20 small mushrooms
Place quail eggs in a heatproof bowl and cover with cold water. Place in a steamer or on a rack in a pan of boiling water and steam 10 minutes. Run cold water over eggs and soak 5 minutes. Peel and marinate eggs in soy sauce 2 minutes, turning frequently. Coat with flour. Heat oil to 365 degrees and deep-fry eggs until golden.
Cook green vegetable in boiling water until just tender. Plunge into cold water and squeeze dry. Boil carrot until tender and slice. Combine sugar, salt, sesame oil, corn starch and broth with the soy sauce left in the bowl used to marinate the eggs. Heat 3 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a skillet and saute' the green vegetable 2 minutes. Add half of the soy sauce mixture and cook 1 minute. Remove to a plate. Heat remaining peanut oil in a clean skillet, add mushrooms and carrot and stir-fry 2 minutes. Add remaining soy sauce mixture and mix well. Add quail eggs and stir well. Pour over green vegetable and serve immediately. Adapted from "Pei Mei's Chinese Cook Book" CHINESE FISH AND CORIANDER SOUP (4 servings) 1 small cucumber Salt for sprinkling Pinch sugar 1 preserved duck egg (hundred-year-old egg) 4 to 5 cups chicken broth 1 to 2 slices fresh ginger, crushed 1/2 pound fresh fish fillets, diced 3 bunches coriander, leaves finely chopped
Peel, seed and chop cucumber and slice into matchsticks. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let stand 15 minutes. Squeeze to remove excess moisture and combine with sugar. Crumble mud crust from egg, wash well and shell. Chop coarsely. Bring broth to a boil. Add cucumber, egg pieces and ginger and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Add fish and coriander and simmer about 5 minutes. Serve as soon as fish is done. Adapted from "A Popular Guide to Chinese Vegetables" by Martha Dahlen and Karen Phillipps THAI GOLDEN SILK (6 to 8 servings) 12 egg yolks 2 cups sugar 1 1/2 cups water Separate eggs and remove any white membrane from yolks. Mix yolks very lightly with a fork. Cook sugar and water to a thick syrup. Using a glass or plastic funnel, drop 1 tablespoon egg yolk through the funnel while rotating it over the boiling syrup. As soon as threads form, remove to a plate. Continue with remaining yolk, forming small mounds. From "The Complete Book of Oriental Cooking" by Myra Waldo.