No egg. That’s what that means in English. What it means to me is confusing. When I moved to India, I knew that Brahmins were vegetarian. No big deal, I’ve been accommodating vegetarians for years, and we do Meatless Monday in our house. I’ve even had a few weeks of meat-free in preparation to take the vegetarian plunge, but as I’m craving cow now more than ever thanks to the Great Maharashtra Beef Ban, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-31712369 that so obviously never worked out.
I thought this would be easy. I’ve spent years entertaining and cooking for a variety of food preferences and restrictions. Vegetarian. Vegan. Muslim and Jewish with no pork or shellfish. I have a repertoire, people.
Whenever I extend a dinner invitation to a small group, I inquire of the attendees if they have any food restrictions or “dislikes”. Seriously, I include “dislikes”. There is nothing worse than having someone over only to have them push the food you spent hours on around their plate and then have to throw it out later, bemoaning the fact that you sprung for the $20/oz. salmon. Your guests might even be starving, but the thought of shoving down more than one polite spoonful of that wonderful tripe pie you served them makes them gag. So I seriously go that far and ask people to tell me not only what they can’t eat for religious and allergy reasons, but also what truly skeeves them out from a culinary standpoint. (Note to anyone who invites me over: I loathe bananas. Tomato seeds are weird. Don’t even think of serving me sea cucumber.)
When I cook for a crowd, I try to make sure there are 3-4 options for everyone. There are more different food crowds than you think at any given party or reception: kids (chicken nuggets for the win!), vegetarians (mini cheesecakes and broccoli quiche), vegans (hummus and pita), Muslims and Jews (chicken hot dogs at the 4th of July BBQ) and gluten free (Bob’s Red Mill cake mixes) are the ones I’ve dealt with most often. And then we move to India.
In India, “vege” means that you can eat milk products like yogurt, cheese, butter, and ghee, but you do NOT eat eggs. If you are strict vege, that is. This means that a lot of my vegetarian staples go out the window, because my specialty is baking. Cakes. Cookies. Scones.
I host a lot of birthday parties, bake for bake sales, cook for teacher lunches, and cookies for holidays. Over time, I’ve honed my skills and have a lineup of favorites that have been popular at home and abroad and I draw from a lot of traditional American favorites because, well, I showcase my “Americanness” as a DiploMom. And without fail, all but ONE of my recipes involved eggs.
At first, I tried to figure out what the reason was. I did online research. I asked my friend, S, downstairs on one of our nightly walks.
“Why can’t Brahmins eat eggs?”
“Well, some of us do. I actually grew up eating eggs, and I love them. But when I married, my husband asked me to quit two things: wearing short skirts and eating eggs. And I decided that I could live with both of those requests.”
My brain was trying to figure out the relationship of short skirts to egg consumption and failed miserably.
“So do you miss eggs?”
“Yes, I do. And”, she looked over her shoulder to see who else was nearby, “Sometimes I cheat.”
I also asked my driver, D, because he is a meat-eating Hindu, and I thought he would be able to approach the egg thing rationally. Um, no.
“D, do you eat eggs?”
“But you eat chicken?”
“And you eat lamb?”
“But not eggs? Why not? I don’t understand.”
“Just not eggs, Madam. No eat eggs.”
Hmmm . . . .
I floated a lot of theories. Maybe it’s because the egg is possibly fertilized? That makes sense, because that’s taking a life. But today, they check for fertilization, so why is this still in effect? It’s not natural for cows to lactate perpetually, but it’s OK to keep them in that state, so it can’t be the idea that you are “stealing” from the chicken or forcing them to lay. Milk is something that cows use to nourish their young, and eggs are just abandoned if they’re not fertilized. It’s essentially bodily waste to the chicken, right? Finally, we just decided that it’s because of the possibility of fertilization and you don’t want to unintentionally take a life. That still means my driver, D, is splitting hairs worse than a trade school beautician.
I still don’t have a 100% clear answer. It confuses me. I like answers. But I set out to add “Indian Vege” to my list of dietary needs to address in my cooking and baking.
The first few months here, I tried to find egg-free recipes. Online searches were slightly helpful. A woman’s magazine that I subscribe to had egg-free cutout cookies (“Holiday Honeys”) in its December issue – http://www.redbookmag.com/food-recipes/recipes/g862/christmas-cookie-and-cocktail-recipes/?slide=1 A friend of mine whose husband is on the “Bill Clinton Diet” http://www.vegan.com/blog/bill-clinton-discusses-his-plant-based-diet/ gave me an egg-free recipe for Banana-Maple Oatmeal Cookies. http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2010/02/banana-maple-oatmeal-cookies.html
I wasn’t particularly thrilled with a lot of the recipes I found though, so I started playing with my Standards. The first recipe I tried to alter was the Classic Toll House Cookie. Instead of an egg, I substituted flaxseed – the usual proportion is 1 tsp. ground flaxseed plus 1 TBSP warm water equals 1 egg. The heartiness of the Toll House Cookie stands up to substitution, and stands up to it well. The cookies don’t spread out as much and they are softer so you have to be a bit more careful removing them from the baking sheet, but overall, there’s not much of a difference. Win.
Quick breads, like banana bread and zucchini bread, also hold up well with flaxseed substitution. Around Halloween I found this awesome recipe for Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread – http://www.cookbookaficionado.com/chocolate-chip-pumpkin-loaf/
But I was stumped with respect to traditional lighter cookies such as sugar cookies and spritz, and I wasn’t certain about cakes either. It seemed that a lot of the cakes that were eggless were more on the wintery, loaf-cake side (i.e., involved raisins, dates, cinnamon and things we think about for fall rather than a light vanilla birthday cake).
I tried using the flaxseed in some spritz cookies. http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/classic-spritz-cookies/aa68df04-bd64-4f1b-8421-0df82064bca4 The first batch turned out very, um, “hearty tasting”. They were still sweet, but tasted more like a whole-wheat cookie. Fine, if that’s what you want, but where’s that delicate almond flavor I was going for? Lost in the flaxseed. I also think the fact that I used some whole-wheat flour contributed to this. I normally use half white and half whole wheat for my sugar or spritz cookies. My theory is it makes them more, um, nutritious.
For the second batch, I doubled the almond extract and dropped the whole-wheat flour. Now you’re talking. The extra liquid, however, made the cookies a tad more soft, and I had to adjust my cookie press method to make sure they came out pretty. My end conclusion: if you sub out the egg for flaxseed in a recipe, don’t use whole-wheat flour, double the flavorings, and perhaps add an extra tablespoon of white flour. With these cookies sorted out, I now had enough egg-free cookie recipes and a few loaf cakes to survive the holidays.
In May, however, I had to go out on that egg-free ledge again. It was Birthday Season. The DiploBoys and DiploDad all have their birthday in a three-week period. I spend the end of April through mid-May covered in buttercream. Mmmmm. . . .
Again, all my standard cakes used eggs. Some of them used four or six eggs, which I think probably increases the sin level. I was officially on the hunt for an egg-free birthday cake. I asked a couple of Mommy Friends, because as we all know, it’s the mommies that deal with the fact that Xander and Krista in the kid’s class can’t eat XY and Z and they’ve figured out a work-around. My friend, S, recommended an egg substitute called Ener-G Egg Replacer. http://www.ener-g.com/egg-replacer.html I bought a box and tried it out.
The guinea pig recipe was a cupcake recipe I’ve used for years. http://www.bakespace.com/recipes/detail/Whimsical%20Bakehouse%20Vanilla%20Cupcakes/16255/ It turned out . . . OK. Not great, but OK. The cupcakes were moist and delicate, but a little tiny – they didn’t puff up like the usual cupcakes do. I also tried making the chocolate version, and it was the same. Good, but not what I’m used to. They went over well, and folks were happy with them, so I consider it a win.
I chickened out when it came to the DiploBoys’ cakes. I didn’t have to worry too much though, because the two vege kids who attended their parties weren’t “hard core veg” (i.e., if it’s there and in a baked good they won’t act like you’re poisoning them). For one kid though, I did make a batch of vanilla cupcakes and iced them with this – http://adventuresingluttony.blogspot.in/2009/03/chocolate-cake-with-oreo-cookies-and.html (Scroll down for the filling recipe – it’s worth it, I promise.)
One thing that I have discovered is that when you sub out the egg in cakes, you wind up with the cake sticking to the pan. It pulls away from the sides (and you can help it with a knife), but sticks to the bottom. Line it with wax paper. Or it will look like this:
Maybe flip it?
- Use your normal recipe substituting flaxseed for heartier cookies and loaf breads.
- Double your flavorings and use white flour (maybe adding a tablespoon extra) for your more delicate butter cookies.
- Grease the Hell out of any cake you substitute Ener-G for eggs in and line the bottom of the pan with wax paper.
- Bake away, and watch the Brahmin Vegetarians appreciate the goodness of American Baking.
Using these four rules, I am back to being That Woman Who Bakes. My friend, S, says I need to go all YouTube on everyone and post me doing videos as The Eggless American. (Nope. Not gonna happen. I can barely keep up here these days.) I have a bunch of recipes I can turn to for bake sales, Consulate events, and holidays.
I also like to give some of my treats to the guys who come repair stuff in my apartment, the security guards, and the front desk staff. Their eyes light up when they see me coming with a napkin or plate, but they smile like a million brilliant stars when I hand it to them and say, “Anda nahi hai”.