Chinese communities around the world are still celebrating the Lunar New Year, which this year is the Year of the Rooster. This, and the lovely post in the New York Times Magazine by Francis Lam on his mother’s tomato eggs, reminded me of this post I wrote five years ago. I didn’t realize until I read Francis’ article how universal this simple dish is in different Chinese communities (I thought of this as my mom’s recipe!). Immigrants everywhere face the difficulties adjusting to a new home– acculturation, financial hardship, sometimes much worse, like now– and a taste of home can be one way to seek comfort. Enjoy the peek into my childhood, my backyard chickens, and especially the recipe.
I grew up in a small town on Eastern Long Island, New York, at a time before the potato fields were plowed over for developments of mega mansions, and my address included the line, “rural route.” So it was not too unusual, nor hipster chic, to have chickens in our backyard. We started small– literally– with two bantam hens. My brother, who must have been around 9 at the time, cobbled together a ramshackle (but functional) coop out of leftover paneling from my father’s DIY basement finishing project.
They built that coop under our deck, and the chickens pretty much had full reign of our grassy backyard. We bought them chicken feed from the local farm supply store, but they also grazed on the grass, bovine-like. So each morning, we went down the stairs of the deck to collect a small, freshly laid egg from each hen. They were tasty, but our visitors were sometimes surprised by the pale green hue of not only the shells, but also the egg whites.
Our next-door neighbors did a little homesteading of their own, raising gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes. They shared them generously with us. I remember the taste of the tomato sandwiches we’d make from those tomatoes, still warm from the sun. We’d put those juicy tomatoes on slices of white sandwich bread spread generously with mayonnaise, and sprinkle salt on top. A taste of summer.
Unfortunately, those same neighbors also had cats, who, like our hens, were allowed to be true to their feral ways. One summer morning, I was awakened by the sounds of a cat fight, screeching and hissing. Later that morning, there was a mess of feathers at the chicken coop, and not another sign of our hens.
While this was a tragedy that quite possibly left permanent psychological scars, this memory also reminds me of my family’s favorite comfort food: Taiwanese-style tomato eggs. This is the meal we eat when we return home from our travels, or from a run of overly-rich meals. Served with some steamed rice, it’s a tasty and comforting dinner. Every Chinese cook has a version of this dinner dish up her sleeve, with endless variations, so feel free to play with this recipe to your tastes.
And to those of you with homesteading fantasies, just remember to ask yourself– do you know where your chickens are?
* * *
Taiwanese Tomato Eggs
Serves: 2 to 3
6 eggs, beaten
2 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 2 inch pieces
2-3 Roma or other small tomatoes, as ripe as possible, sliced into quarters
1/2 tsp sugar
3 tsp soy sauce
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1. Heat oil over medium heat in a frying pan, then add tomato wedges. Cook for about five minutes, turning over and pressing with a spatula to gently crush and release the juices. When the tomatoes are soft, add the sugar and soy sauce and cook for another minute.
2. Add in the beaten eggs and scallions and reduce heat to low. Allow to cook, occasionally stirring (making softly scrambled eggs).
3. Serve over steamed rice.
Vegan version: substitute pack of silken tofu for the eggs.
Thanks for reading!
You’re invited to join my healthy cooking community at www.Facebook.com/TheDoctorsSpicebox for more healthy eating articles, recipes and events. To your health!