I miss my Mom most at the holidays. After she succumbed to her two year battle with cancer years ago, we felt some relief knowing she would no longer wince in agony with each an every movement. The morphine helped alleviate some of the pain, but not all. I felt so guilty, wiping a tear from my eye, selfishly thinking I’ll never again taste her chicken soup. If it was such good medicine, why couldn’t it cure her cancer? Maybe the secret is having someone else make it for you. I tried to make it for her, but mine was not as good. It didn’t work.
My Mom was the world’s best cook, and the world’s worst cook. Although we spent countless hours cooking together in the kitchen while I was growing up, I had never realized that the secret to her cooking was in the burning. Yes, that’s right. It was the burnt foods that tasted the best. No, not the burnt parts, but the parts that were right next to the burnt parts that were the most flavorful. Before Food TV taught us to caramelize our onions, my Mom would almost burn them. They were delicious.
Standing at the kitchen counter by her side growing up I learned her secret to killer chocolate brownies was adding a little coffee to the batter. We would taste the batter over and over to make sure it was absolutely perfect before serving it to company. Maybe that’s why we both had a weight problem. We were perfectionists. Sadly, as the tumor attached to her spine grew, her appetite diminished. As I was the one cooking, she no longer got to enjoy the tasting part. Although she praised my creations, her appetite was gone. No matter how hard I tried to please her, eventually she found little enjoyment in food.
Instead of cooking, we began spending a lot of time shopping. The exercise was good for her. And with her diminished appetite, her clothes were starting to get loose. We splurged on vibrantly colored workout suits. She found the cutest gold purse to hold her portable chemo pump. She was by far the most fashionable patient on the oncology ward as well as most stylish shopper at the supermarket. With only a few months remaining in her life, we laughed as acquaintances, those who didn’t know she suffered from cancer, commented on how “she never looked better!” What a cruel irony.
After my Mom passed away, a mere five years after my Dad succumbed to heart failure, I found her recipe collection. In her memory I was determined to duplicate her fabulous chicken soup, her world renowned Mandelbrot and most important, her to-die-for chopped liver. I know, not everyone is a fan of chopped liver. But hers was killer. It was the only food I liked better than chocolate.
I tried and I tried to duplicate her recipe. I sautéed the onions and liver. I added the chicken schmaltz just like she said. I added a little raw onion and hard boiled eggs. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and chopped it by hand with the same chopping blade she had used for over forty years. It was close, but not perfect. Something was missing. I tried again, and again. Not ready to give up I put the onions and the liver in the pan, on low heat, and thought I was safe going to the bathroom for a few minutes. I was wrong. I smelled something coming from the kitchen and checked to make sure the house wasn’t burning down like the time I burned the kitchen as a teenager broiling lamb chops. But that’s a different story. I was worried about my kitchen, but mostly, my chopped liver. I got there just in time. The liver was dry and charred, but not ruined. The onions were black. I went ahead and finished making the recipe. Oh My God. It was perfect! The secret, I found out, was that the liver had to dry out and the onions had to almost burn to bring out the sweetness. Yum!
Since becoming vegetarian, I no longer make real chopped liver. But I developed a recipe that tastes really close. And since there is no liver involved, everyone is willing to try it.
Mock Chopped Liver – Vegan
2 cups water
1 cup lentils
2 teaspoons vegetarian chicken flavoring
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion
Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine water, lentils and vegetarian chicken flavoring in a pot and cook for about 40 minutes, until tender. Drain if there is any liquid left. Sauté the onion in the olive oil. Combine lentils and onion and “chop” with a handheld beater. Season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.
Serve on challah, matzo, crackers or toast. Enjoy!
This is perfect for break-the-fast. Happy New Year to all.