Ah, deviled eggs. For me, the snow white beds filled with mounds of rich whipped golden yolks are not only a thing of voluptuous beauty –but possibly a perfect mouthful. So imagine my delight last year when I discovered Chef Jacques Pepin’s technique of browning them to caramelize and crisp their fillings. Pure culinary genius. Served warm with a drizzle of revitalizing spring herb-infused “mayo” this dish is egg magic at its finest. In more ways than one.
I’m Lativian on my mother’s side. Our family Easter table was never without a platter of deviled eggs. The dish in the photo below was handed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother, to my mother, and now to me – and every Easter I continue the tradition of filling it.
Last year however I broke with tradition – sort of. I created the above Pepin-inspired recipe for the Latvian festival Lieldienas (the Great Day or Great Days) to celebrate the egg magic of the spring equinox. Folklore tells us Lieldienas was originally celebrated on the first day (and days after) when sunlight finally overcomes darkness. Its most important meal was breakfast and the table would be filled with eggs, egg dishes, and other round foods — bread, cakes, cheeses — emphasizing the sun’s return.
Eggs embodied the fertilizing power of the sun because spring is when hens, cued by increasing light, began laying once again. For the “Lieldienas Feast“, eggs colored with onion skins, red cabbage, birch leaves, and tree bark created golden colors emulating the sun – ensuring a plentiful growing season to come.
In folk tradition, before you can eat an egg, you should find another person with whom to “hit eggs.” The person with the unbroken egg keeps playing the game until his or her egg breaks, and only then can they eat it. This ritual has been played out annually at my family’s Easter table for as long as I can remember!
My Oma’s traditional recipe calls for creamy sweet mayonnaise, tiny bites of minced pickle, zesty mustard, and a healthy dash of paprika, but over the years I improvised by making my own homemade mayonnaise and aioli with wildcrafted vinegar. Making floral and herbal vinegar is one of my favorite spring rituals and is inspired by the old springtime tradition of gathering wild greens and blossoms to cleanse and revitalize the body after winter.
Plants and herbs varied from region to region according to whatever local edible, nutritious, and flavorful spring flora grew close by. Above you’ll see a cleansing and detoxifying green vinegar made with nettles tops, wild onions, violet leaves, and cleavers, and the other is a floral mix containing maple buds, dandelion flowers, red flowering currant, and Oregon grape blossoms.
Loaded with vitamins, minerals, and countless beneficial nutrients, vinegars are superbly nourishing and delicious daily tonics that can be splashed into salad dressings, mayo, and creamy aioli. And as far as I’m concerned, they elevate the classic devilled egg into the category of superfood!
It all begins with filling a mason jar with greens and/or blossoms, and topping it with the vinegar of your choice. Let infuse for 4-6 weeks. If you’re in a hurry, you can use it after 24 hrs. – by this time many flavors will have been already incorporated into the vinegar. But for full nutritional potency be sure to infuse for the recommended time. The infused buds make delightful pickles, which I’ve included chopped up in the following recipes. You can use these after 24 hrs as well.
For this recipe, I used an old-fashioned “sweet milk” mayonnaise or “salad cream”. While these were around for decades before supermarkets sold them as salad dressings, I was intrigued by the classic recipe Nestlè developed back in the 1950s using sweet condensed milk. While it seems strange, using sweetened condensed milk in deviled egg filling was popular in the midcentury US and is still a central ingredient in Southern Deviled Eggs. I adore the smooth velvety texture and dulce de leche flavor of condensed milk, and I knew the herbal vinegar and flower bud pickles would make the perfect foil to offset its sweetness.
It’s as simple as pouring condensed milk into a small bowl and adding your herbal vinegar, mustard powder, spices, salt, and pepper and giving it all a good mix. The mixture will be very thin but thicken up with a couple of hours of refrigeration which makes it spreadable. I’m guessing some of you won’t like the sound of this salad cream so I’ve also shared a recipe for simple herbal aioli as well. You can use either for these pan-fried deviled eggs.
So Happy Lieldienas! Many old Latvian folk songs known as Daina, (many passed down for over a thousand years) sing of magical foods found on Lieldienas feasting tables, white, silver, and golden eggs, white cakes, round pies, buns, and pastries, all of which encourage the fertile growth of spring. So on these “Great Days” when sunlight finally becomes greater than darkness, I offer these warm nourishing deviled eggs to make your taste buds sing!
Lieldienas (Pan-fried) Deviled Eggs
(This recipe is an excerpt from Gather Victoria Patreon )
- 8 large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 -3 tablespoons minced “floral pickles” or just finely chopped regular pickles
- 2 -3 tablespoons of minced wild onion, ramp greens, or chives.
- 2 -3 tablespoons of herbal aioli or sweet milk mayonnaise (recipes below)
- 2 teaspoons herbal vinegar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil (for cooking)
- 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sweet milk mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 2 & 1/2 tablespoons milk
- 2 & 1/2 teaspoons of herbal vinegar
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Cut the hard-cooked eggs in half lengthwise. Gently remove the yolks and place them in a medium bowl. Reserve the whites.
Add the dijon mustard, garlic, wild onion greens, sweet milk mayonnaise, and vinegar to the yolks. With a fork, crush everything together into a thick paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pack the mixture back into the hollows of the egg whites, so the filling is flush with the surface of the egg, not mounded up. You will have leftover stuffing (this will go into the salad dressing).
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over low-medium heat. Gently place the eggs in the pan, stuffed side down. Cook until the eggs are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, place the leftover egg stuffing with all the dressing ingredients. Give a good mix. Gently lift the eggs from the pan, turn them filling side up, and serve warm with the egg yolk dressing. Note: The eggs could be stuffed a day ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to sauté them.
Sweet Milk Mayonnaise
(Adapted from Nestle)
- 1 tin sweetened condensed milk (8 oz)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dijon or dried mustard
- 1/2 cup herbal or floral-infused vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Pour the condensed milk into a small bowl, and add vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Whisk till thoroughly blended. If you want it tangier or sharper just add some additional vinegar or mustard. Refrigerate till the mayonnaise has thickened.
Herbal Vinegar Aioli
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons of herbal vinegar
- Salt, to taste
- ½ cup olive or avocado oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt using a large heavy knife. Whisk together egg, lemon juice, and mustard in a bowl. Begin to add oil a teaspoon at a time, whisking constantly, until all oil is incorporated and the mixture is emulsified. (If you rush this process this mixture will not thicken or separate. If this happens, stop adding oil and continue whisking until the mixture comes together, then resume adding oil.
Whisk in garlic paste and season with salt and pepper. If aïoli is too thick, whisk in 1 or 2 drops of water. Chill, covered, until ready to use.