We’re about to enter the Jewish high holidays, and I find myself wrestling with the meat of them. Not the meaning, but literally, the meat. Similar to families of all faiths, our important religious days are marked with a service, followed by loud, large gatherings of relatives and a meal that is as timeless as it is abundant. If we celebrate God first and family second, sweet noodle kugel is the close third. The ever-present chopped liver, though, tests me.
Chopped liver is exactly what it sounds like: a pate of chopped calf or chicken livers, served on rye bread or unleavened crackers called matzos. It has a rich, earthy flavor that comes on as strong as your great aunt noodging you about your tattoos. And while it’s steeped in protein, iron and tradition, each spoonful also contains a hefty amount of fat and cholesterol. Which begs the question, when food carries the weight of our family’s heritage, is it in good taste to update it?
My children’s Hebrew tutor is a kind and patient (well, more like so-so patient) woman, with a flair for healthy cooking. She had the answer to my conundrum on a handwritten card in her recipe box: a vegetarian chopped liver that looks like the original but is made from eggplant and pecans. And the recipe couldn’t be easier to prepare. Hard-boil some eggs. Saute onion and eggplant. Throw in some pecans and seasonings. Whirl all the ingredients in a food processor and refrigerate until it’s time to eat. If you have an extra minute, I suggest toasting the pecans to deepen their nutty flavor. But if time is of the essence, you can strip this recipe to its bare minimum and still enjoy a lighter, brighter version of chopped liver that honors the spirit of the original.
This recipe is also easily customizable. Hate eggplant? Substitute 2 cups of cooked peas. Don’t eat eggs? Skip them. You can even omit the nuts if you’re working around a food allergy. Just know that the texture will be creamier and less sturdy, like baba ghanoush. And while the pecans boost the fat content higher than what we normally consider appropriate for modern healthy cooking, their plant-based, minimal saturated-fat numbers are perfectly acceptable in moderate amounts. Much like navigating a large family gathering, a little thoughtful flexibility, in nutrition, in recipes and in tradition, goes a long way.
Vegetarian eggplant “chopped liver”
If you don’t have a large food processor, pulse each ingredient individually in the food processor and then combine by hand. For a fancier presentation, cut off 1/3 of one of the hard-boiled eggs, finely dice it and use it, along with chopped parsley, to garnish the finished dish.