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Vegetarian Chopped Liver

I developed this recipe because over the last few years I have gotten numerous requests for it and – service-minded me -- I figured it was about time I did something about them. I suppose I've been avoiding the subject of vegetarian chopped liver – not to mention the dish itself -- for a long time. It's because of this incident in my past. No therapy needed here to figure out why (until now) I have had an aversion to it.

This must have taken place at least 40 years ago, but I distinctly remember my grandfather, Louis Sonkin, coming home one day with a bushel – okay, maybe a half bushel -- of stringbeans. "What am I going to do with all these beans, Lou," I can still hear my grandmother, Elsie, saying. She was an excellent cook, but we were only six in the house, in what we call in Brooklyn "a mother-daughter house," a semi-detached, two-family house with my immediate family in the apartment upstairs, my grandparents in the one downstairs. My grandfather often brought home food – our weekly salami, which hung from a hook on the cupboard next to the refrigerator; hot bagels, dried fruit and candy, halvah … goodies. A bushel of stringbeans was definitely unusual. Who remembers the story behind them? As an electrical contractor, I don't think he knew many farmers.

"Make me vegetarian chopped liver," he told my grandmother, requesting a specialty of the kosher dairy restaurants, which of course could not serve real chopped liver. (There are many ersatz dishes in the kosher repertoire, but that's another story.) So she did, using all the stringbeans, perhaps out of spite. Now I wonder if I wasn't charged with helping to head and tail the beans, which is the kind of job I regularly got stuck with in my grandmother's kitchen. That would have helped my aversion along. And it didn't make me like vegetarian chopped liver any better when we had to eat it for weeks. And weeks. I'm sure Elsie must have given much of it away to friends and family, but we still had so much for ourselves that we were sick of it before long. It became a family joke. All you had to do was mention vegetarian chopped liver and we would break out in nervous laughter.

I have never since desired to prepare or eat vegetarian chopped liver. I tried to never give it another thought. I'm sure I would have continued to avoid it, except that a cluster of requests for a recipe came in the mail lately. Now that I've made it (twice actually), I can't get enough of the stuff.

"Does it really taste like liver?", you may well ask. Not really. It has a sense of chopped liver, but I have friends who won't touch liver in any form and they love this stuff. You might want to call it something else. Vegetarian pate?

Still, the words "vegetarian chopped liver" strikes a resonant chord with many people. I mentioned it on the radio and, if I had taken all the calls about it, we could have done a whole program on the subject. Reminiscence time!

Vegetarian Chopped Liver
Makes 7 cups

There are many recipes for mock chopped liver. It's done with peas, with stringbeans, with peas and stringbeans, with eggplant, with either almonds or walnuts, and sometimes with crackers as filler (Tam Tam is the usual brand). Very proudly, I gave a taste of my version with only fresh stringbeans to an aficionado in the office, but she didn't think it was as good as her grandmother's. So I had her call grandma. The only ingredient or proportion difference between hers and mine was that grandma uses canned stringbeans (and, of course, grandma love). Canned stringbeans and/or peas do give a more gray-brown, realistically liver color, and I am sure a certain taste, but I'll still go with the fresh.

2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds stringbeans, trimmed and washed
4 medium onions, sliced or chopped (about 4 cups)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 large or 4 extra-large eggs, hard-cooked and shelled
1 cup shelled walnuts
3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt and the stringbeans and boil the beans for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a 9- to 10-inch skillet, fry the onions in the oil until many of the onions are browned, some of them rather dark. Start the onions on high heat and fry for about 5 minutes, tossing frequently, then reduce the heat to medium and fry, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes or so.

In a food processor, fitted with the metal blade, combine half the walnuts, half the fried onions, and half the stringbeans. Chunk up 2 or 3 of the eggs and add to the processor. Pulse the processor until the mixture is quite fine (but not pasty) and resembles chopped liver. Stir down the mixture a couple of times during the processing. Turn into a mixing bowl and process the remaining ingredients.

Stir the two batches together, adding salt and pepper as you do. Cover and refrigerate at least a couple of hours before serving. The "liver" tastes even better the next day.

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