When I was growing up, chopped liver was a rare treat reserved for my parents’ black and white cocktail parties, funeral shivas and Passover. I would hang around the kitchen while our maid, Hazel (yes, we had a live-in maid — this was a different era), fried up the chicken livers in a big scoop of schmaltz (chicken fat). I was hoping for first crack at the gribenes — the dark brown, crispy cracklings that accumulate in the bottom of the pan when you fry organ meats, in animal fat, into oblivion.
Aside from the deep pleasure of gribenes (and getting to them ahead of my brother), I enjoyed the whole process — helping to screw the metal grinder onto the counter, feeding chunks of white onion and fried livers into the torture device, turning the crank and watching it come out the other end like squiggles of bloody spaghetti, mixing it all with chopped hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise — to make the perfect heart attack on a plate.
That was then, this is now. Now we have cholesterol and cruelty-free options we never dreamed of in 1960s suburbia. We have a food processor instead of a meat grinder and olive oil instead of chicken fat. We even have health food and kosher supermarkets where you can buy prepared veggie chopped liver! We have new traditions to replace old memories.
This dense, savory-sweet spread has become my family’s new Passover tradition — a treat that my brother absolutely insists on every year, that we snack on throughout the holiday and whose leftovers he rightfully claims as the first-born son when he returns to Philadelphia after a long, hard weekend of noshing and schmoozing.
- 1 cup cashew or walnut pieces, toasted
- 2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for processor
- 1 large onion, roughly chopped
- 1 pound mushrooms, roughly sliced
- salt and cracked black pepper to taste
> If nuts are not roasted, toast in a dry cast iron skillet (or on a cookie sheet in a medium oven, if the oven is already in use). Be sure not to burn. Allow to cool and crisp while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
> To caramelize onions, sauté slowly in a generous amount of olive oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Set aside.
> In the same pan, add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and sauté mushrooms until beginning to brown around the edges.
> Combine all ingredients in a food processor, drizzling in additional olive oil if needed, and blend until smooth, seasoning aggressively with salt and pepper to taste. Chill for at least several hours or overnight to combine flavors.
Serve with crackers, matzah or crudités, or (when Passover is over) on toast or bagels with sliced tomatoes, red onions and avocado.
Ruth Goldstein is a local freelance writer.