With Easter comes the ritual of painting eggs in pretty pastels and hiding them for egg hunts.
And with that ancient custom comes leftover hard-cooked eggs.
It's not hard to detect an egg that's been lying around awhile, says Linda Braun, a spokeswoman for the American Egg Board in Park Ridge, Ill.
"Eventually you will learn where those eggs are because you will smell them," she says. "When an egg gets old, it loses carbon dioxide and moisture. . . . All that remains are the minerals, including sulfur, which has an odor. That can happen in the refrigerator, too, although seldom does an egg 'go bad' -- what they do literally is dry up."
Eggs are making a comeback, says cookbook author Elaine Corn, who wrote "365 Ways to Cook Eggs" (Harper Collins, $12.95).
"People may have come to their senses about eating eggs," she says. "There are nine essential amino acids, and eggs have all of them. It's part of the comeback of protein -- protein is really a bad thing to do without."
In 1945, the earliest year for which the American Egg Board has figures, each person ate 402 eggs a year. The low point was in 1991, with 233.5 eggs per person per year. But consumption is back up, with '97 showing 238 eggs per person.
Concerns about cholesterol in the late '80s gave eggs a bad reputation, but new information about cholesterol and eggs has set a recovery in motion, says Braun.
"Changes in feeding and animal husbandry and better technology helped improve the situation," she says. "The old machines were not as good at separating out cholesterols from other components. We worked with the USDA and found out that the average large egg has 213 milligrams of cholesterol, down by 22 percent from previous figures. We also found out that the average egg was down to 5 grams of fat, a 10 percent change."
Easter is an ideal time to savor the egg's comeback, but do so wisely, says Braun.
"People are under the impression that with the egg in its shell, you can leave it out forever," she says. "They put them in baskets, they make them into centerpieces, they hide them on the lawn. They have so much fun with them, they forget that eggs are a perishable food.
"But according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's guidelines, perishable foods should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours."
Fresh, uncooked eggs keep in the refrigerator at least four to five weeks from the pack date. Leave them in the carton.
Eggs are exceptional and deserve to be treated as such, from the way they're handled to the way they're cooked. Factoring in the dyeing and hunting rituals makes caution all the more important.
"When you're working with eggs, remember to continually wash your hands at all points in the process," Braun says. "The shell is a form of protection, but it's also very porous and can absorb things."
That could be animal droppings, your dog's saliva or lawn chemicals, depending on where the egg hunt is being held.
The best idea: Cook and dye a separate dozen eggs for eating. That way, you don't have to worry about keeping the egg cold or about the bacteria it could encounter on a warm day.
"Even way before Christian religion, very early civilizations looked forward to spring as the time when life was coming back," says Corn. "To them, eggs pretty much represented the return of life. The whole process was a miracle."
Here are some practical tips on cooking, peeling and buying eggs from Braun.
* Hard-cooking eggs: "The preferable term is 'hard-cooked' rather than hard-boiled. When eggs are cooked at too high a temperature or too long a time, they get tough and rubbery."
For perfect hard-cooked eggs, place eggs in a single layer on the bottom of a pan -- don't stack them or they'll clank and break in the cooking process. Cover with tap water an inch above the eggs. Bring to a full rolling boil.
The minute the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and slap a lid on the pan. Set the timer for 15 minutes for large eggs. (For small to medium eggs, set the timer for 12 minutes; for extra-large or jumbo eggs, set to 18 minutes.)
"Then pour cold water over eggs and let them sit until they're cool. Place back in the carton and refrigerate."
* Peeling: "People tend to be too gentle. You need crackling all over the shell. Tap the egg against a counter or table top, and keep tapping lightly until there's a fine web of crackles over the entire surface. People tend to want to take off shell in chunks, but that's how you end up taking part of the egg. You can even take the egg between two hands and roll it.
"It's best to start at the large, rounded end where there's an air cell that makes removing the shell easier. The older an egg gets, the bigger the air cell gets."
For appearance and easy peeling, an egg that's about seven to 10 days is just right. "Use fresh eggs for poaching and frying -- they'll hold a nice shape and won't spread out in the pan so much."
* Reading the date: "Carton dates can be confusing. According to the USDA, the date on the carton is no more than 30 days from the day the eggs were packed. However, on many but not necessarily all, there's also a three-digit number on the short side of the carton, anywhere from 001 to 365, which stands for the day of the year. That number tells you the exact day those eggs were put in that carton. March 31, for example, is the 90th day of the year."
Makes about 1 cup
1 large garlic clove
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
/ teaspoon cayenne
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Mince or crush garlic clove in a large bowl. Add anchovy paste and mustard; mash. Stir in black pepper, cayenne and lemon juice. Gradually whisk in olive oil until creamy. Stir in fresh parsley. Serve right away or cover and chill. If making ahead, whisk before serving.
Hard-Cooked Eggs With Sweet Pepper Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
4 large sweet peppers: 2 red and 2 yellow
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped, fresh basil leaves
3 whole cloves
1 tablespoon white wine
6 hard-cooked eggs
Remove ribs from peppers; discard the seeds. Cut the peppers into strips no more than 1/2 -inch wide, then cut those strips into small dice.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy saute pan; add the peppers, onion, basil leaves and cloves and cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions and peppers are soft.
Just before serving, remove the cloves, drizzle the peppers with white wine, cook briefly, and taste for salt.
Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half, serve them on a bed of sweet pepper sauce, and spoon remaining sauce over eggs.
Per serving: 206 calories (62 percent fat); 14 grams fat (7 grams saturated); 2 grams fiber; 275 milligrams cholesterol; 203 milligrams sodium; 10 grams carbohydrate; 86 milligrams calcium
1 dozen hard-cooked eggs
10 ounces firm reduced-fat tofu, drained
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or 2 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Remove shells from eggs. Slice eggs in half lengthwise; remove yolks and discard.
Pour liquid from tofu. Drain. Place tofu on a double layer of paper towels. Pat dry.
Place tofu in a large bowl. Using a fork, mash tofu into small bits.
Mix remaining ingredients except paprika in a small bowl. Add to tofu and stir to combine.
Spoon mixture into egg whites. Top with paprika, if desired. Serve chilled.
Per serving: 77 calories (25 percent fat); 2 grams fat (no saturated fat); no fiber; no cholesterol; 293 milligrams sodium; 5 grams carbohydrate; 64 milligrams calcium
Makes 6 servings
6 large eggs
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced, with or without seeds
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons whole, low-fat or nonfat sour cream (or more mayonnaise)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives or scallion
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
grated rind of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley (divided use)
In a saucepan, bring about 2 quarts water to a simmer. Gently lower the eggs into the simmering water with a large spoon. Simmer the eggs for 12 minutes, then place the eggs in a large bowl of ice water for 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the jalapeno, mayonnaise, sour cream, chives or scallion, cumin, lime rind, salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of the cilantro or parsley.
Peel the eggs, then carefully cut them in half length-wise. Add the yolk halves to the sour cream mixture. With a fork, mash the yolks, distributing them throughout the sour cream. Spoon the mixture into the cavities in the whites. Place the eggs on a platter and sprinkle them with the remaining cilantro or parsley.
Note: To make eggs "stand up," slice off a bit of the large end horizontally. Cut a "cap" off the eggs at the other end to remove yolks, instead of slicing lengthwise.
Per serving: 139 calories (75 percent fat); 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated); no fiber; 217 milligrams cholesterol; 292 milligrams sodium; 2 grams carbohydrate; 37 milligrams calcium
Salad Nicoise Serves 4
1 pound tender green beans, trimmed and halved lengthwise
4 small red-skinned potatoes (about 1 pound), boiled until tender
Anchovy Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced
3 tomatoes, cored and cut in 3/4 -inch wedges
2 (6- to 7-ounce) cans tuna packed in olive oil or water, drained and separated into chunks
4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup Nicoise olives, or other black olives
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or oregano, or a combination
2 tablespoons drained small capers
salt and pepper
Put the green beans in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat until crisp-tender, 4 to 7 minutes. Or, drop into 1 inch of lightly salted boiling water, cover and boil, tossing occasionally, until tender. Drain, let cool thoroughly and chill.
Arrange the green beans, leaving a space across the center, on a large oval platter about 10 inches by 14 inches.
Peel the potatoes, cut lengthwise in half, then cut crosswise into 1/4 -inch half-rounds. Toss the potatoes with 1/4 cup of the dressing and mound in the center of the platter.
Arrange the cucumber slices around the edge. Top with the tomato wedges. Scatter the tuna over the top. Arrange the quartered eggs on top of the potatoes in a line across the center.
Scatter the salad with the olives and sprinkle with the basil and capers. Spoon a little of the remaining dressing over the salad and serve the remainder on the side. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold, cool or at room temperature.
Per serving: 751 calories (59 percent fat); 50 grams fat (8 grams saturated); 7 grams fiber; 241 milligrams cholesterol; 1,018 milligrams sodium; 37 grams carbohydrate; 172 milligrams calcium
Bacon and Egg Salad
Serves 4 (about 2 cups)
6 hard-cooked eggs
3 ounces (3 slices) thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 -inch dice
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ketchup
Quarter the eggs, then coarsely chop them. Place the chopped eggs in a bowl.
Cook the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until just crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
Add the bacon to the eggs, season with salt and pepper and toss well.
Mix the mayonnaise and ketchup together in a small bowl and stir into the eggs with a fork. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 367 calories (85 percent fat); 34 grams fat (7 grams saturated); no fiber; 342 milligrams cholesterol; 533 milligrams sodium; 2 grams carbohydrate; 51 milligrams calcium
Dill-and-Dijon gg Salad Wraps
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped (see note)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red or green bell pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons mayonnaise or salad dressing (divided use)
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh or 1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed
5 flour tortillas (6 to 8 inches in diameter)
1/2 cup shredded lettuce
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
Mix eggs, bell pepper, onions, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, mustard and dill.
Spread 1 teaspoon mayonnaise down center of each tortilla. Top with about 1/4 cup egg mixture, spreading to within 2 inches of bottom of tortilla. Top with lettuce and alfalfa sprouts.
Fold one end of tortilla up about 1 inch over filling: fold right and left sides over folded end, overlapping. Fold remaining end down.
Note: Hard-cooked eggs can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for two days. If shell is hard to peel, hold egg in cold water while peeling. To get the wraps to "stand up," slice off one end horizontally. The egg salad acts like glue to hold the wrap together unless you plan to leave it standing a long time. Then you will need to secure the side with a toothpick.
Per serving: 233 calories (58 percent fat); 15 grams fat (3 grams saturated); 1 gram fiber; 174 milligrams cholesterol; 341 milligrams sodium; 17 grams carbohydrate; 78 milligrams calcium
Pub Date: 03/31/99