There is no good reason to throw onion peelings straight to the compost. The robes of a humble onion serve a far nobler purpose, and that is to make boiled eggs taste (and look) better.
This is a new discovery for me, and one that I learnt at my latest workaway in Israel. I’ve been spending my days with Ofer, a brilliant cook and all-round great guy. He runs a pop-up restaurant in his backyard on Shabbat (Saturdays), and I’ve been helping him out. His food is amazing and fresh and often unlike anything I’ve tasted before. In the past week, we’ve experimented with sweet and slightly sour guava and hibiscus jam, we’ve smoked onions and chillies until completely black and blitzed them up with prunes for a sweet, spicy relish. We’ve made zhoug and roasted more vegetables than I can remember.
It was on one of these days that I was clearing out the onion and veg box. Onion peelings were spread all over the floor and Ofer proceeded to pick them up and drop them in a pot. He filled the pot with water, added a heap of black pepper and brought it to the boil. In went the eggs and there they stayed for the next couple of hours. Slow-boiled eggs are marvellous, and the rooty smokiness of onion peelings make them all the better.
Two hours for a boiled egg does sound excessive, but if you time this job with a kitchen spring clean (after clearing the veg box), you will be rewarded with a good snack at the end of it. Or not. Leave it to do its thing while you do yours. They can wait all night and will taste better for it.
To kill time, we headed out – as we do most days – to the Palestinian villages just on the other side of the border. It’s illegal for Israelis to do this, but Ofer prefers the produce here and likes to support his Arab neighbours. We visit the halal butchers for choice cuts, the bakery for dimpled flatbread baked on hot stones and Jerusalem bagels, we drop in on his friends for bitter cardamom-spiced coffee. The village is alive with carpenters and mechanics and food vendors. It’s a working village, far poorer than its Israeli counterparts. While people are of course much the same, their struggle to survive is far more difficult. An odd dichotomy to travel between.
We return after an hour or so. A good time to crack the eggs. Using the back of a spoon, Ofer gently cracks each egg before returning them to the pot. This will allow the onion water to seep into the shells without ruining the already cooked egg inside. A good way to get better flavour and a pretty nice stained glass pattern.
Cooked for a couple of hours, these eggs are delicious, but slow-cooked over a very low heat overnight, they are even better. I will leave you to decide what you have the patience for. I had none. Two hours later, we cracked open the eggs and devoured them with sea salt, black pepper and my new favourite relish from Yemen. You can’t beat it.
If you have more eggs and the inclination to cook them, save the cooking water and repeat the process the next day. Otherwise, strain and discard the water, and compost the rest. If you’re more organised than I am and hate to keep a peeling-strewn veg box, store your fresh onion peelings in a paper bag, topping them up as and when you have them. They will keep just fine as long as they are dry.
Place the onion peelings in a pot, cover with water and bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of black pepper and carefully drop in your eggs. You can add as many as you like without crowding the pot. Bring to the boil, then simmer for at least 2 hours or over a very low heat overnight – the longer you cook them, the better they’ll be. After about an hour, gently crack the eggs without removing the shells, then return them to the pan. When you’re ready to eat, remove your eggs and peel them. Eat simply with sea salt and black pepper, or with a spicy relish. Bosnian ajvar and Yemenite zhoug are my favourites.