It’s hard for us to imagine that cooking certain foods can mean a death sentence…literally. But this was true for the Jews of Spain who dared prepare one of their favorite dishes, quajado, during the Inquisition.
Five or six centuries ago, at the height of the Inquisition, this mixture of eggs, vegetables and usually some cheese was cooked in an iron skillet over an open fire. Because it was one of the favorite dishes of Spain’s Jewish community, especially at Passover, quajado was viewed as a “dead” give-away of those still hanging onto their Judaism. If discovered (maybe by neighbors who could enjoy the smell of it cooking before alerting authorities), the quajado could lead to imprisonment…or worse.
How did this “dangerous” dish end up on my Passover table?
When Jews like my wise ancestors left Spain, they took with them culinary favorites such as their quajado—which is pronounced kwah-jah-doe with a softness on the “j” and is also often spelled cuajado. My family was among the estimated 120,000 to 130,000 Sephardim who were welcomed into Ottoman lands where they were able to pretty much live, worship and eat as they wished for most of the next 500 years.
And so, passed down generation to generation, quajado appears on Passover tables like mine. In fact, quajado has become as much a part of my annual Seders as haroset…well, almost. It’s most often prepared for this holiday, although it’s an easy, healthy dish all year round.
The name for the dish comes from asquajado, which means “coagulated” in Ladino, the Spanish-based language of Sephardic Jews. When you think quajado, picture a crustless quiche or a frittata, but with less egg and lots more vegetables.
Quajado is versatile. My version uses leeks, popular in Sephardic cooking and traditional among Sephardim for Passover. But you can mix and match vegetables such as shredded zucchini or carrots, chopped spinach, sautéed diced onions or roasted, mashed eggplant.
I also use potatoes, but I’ve often wondered how they got into my quajado since the Spanish conquistadores didn’t bring potatoes back to Iberia from Peru until nearly 50 years after the Inquisition. Some culinary heritage remains a mystery…
For the Seder, I leave out the cheese unless I’m going totally vegetarian for the meal. Even though I don’t keep kosher, it just seems like the right thing to do. But I never leave out lots of freshly ground black pepper, which gives the dish extra flavor.
Served warm or at room temperature, quajado makes a satisfying lunch or a light supper with a salad. It can also be a veggie side dish or an appetizer, cut into smaller pieces. And during Passover, leftover quajado is a welcome choice for breakfast!
There are meat versions of quajado, usually called megina or mina. These are made from onions, ground meat (beef, lamb or turkey), eggs and usually crumbled matzah or farfel, although some people use whole sheets of matzah and layer it with the meat-onion mixture like a lasagna before pouring the beaten eggs over the stacked layers. Parsley, cilantro and cumin are among the flavors added depending on the chef’s tastes and cultural background.
Quajado is an even more perfect dish for Passover knowing its history. It feels like a link to my family’s past and, as I prepare it, I think about those who came before me. I am grateful that I live free from the terrible oppression suffered by so many Jews over past centuries, whether persecuted in Spain’s Inquisition or as slaves in Egypt.