This story is part of our Protein Angst series. See more stories on the right.

I don’t need to tell anyone that eggs have cholesterol. That’s a birthright in this era of No-Yolk noodles and Egg Beaters. What might need remembering, however, is that chicken eggs are the most affordable source of pasture-raised animal protein (Even if you buy a dozen for, say, $8 at the farmers market, that’s still less than 75 cents a portion). And they’re good for much more than breakfast.

This real news is powered by you. Support Grist

As a thickener and binding agent, eggs were around before newfangled starches like soy lecithin or xantham gum. And they’re also available year-round (just in smaller quantity in the winter, when most hens’ laying slows down).

One egg has about six grams of protein. But they are all too often seen as an accompaniment to another fatty, cholesterol-rich protein (like bacon, sausage, or ham) when they could instead be the rich complement to a plant-based dish.

Take, for example, a poached egg on a pile of steamed vegetables. Or the Italian tradition of grating a hard-boiled egg on salads or asparagus stems. One egg dropped into a bowl of soup or noodles creates a more luscious broth. The French are fond of snacking on fresh or poached vegetables dipped in aioli, or garlicky mayonnaise made with egg yolks (butter, on the other hand, was once much more scarce). I savor a fried egg plopped on top of soupy, leftover rice with Chinese pickles as a comfort food. One egg can go a long way toward making a simple dish more filling and full of character.

When laid from pastured chickens, protein isn’t all that eggs have to offer. They’re also a good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are woefully lacking in the typical American diet. And they provide Vitamins E, D, and A, especially if the chicken has eaten lots of beta carotene-rich greens like grass. If buying high-quality eggs is too much for your pocket, you might consider keeping hens yourself. I’ve been raising hens on the rooftop garden I tend at Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, so I’m well aware of how plentiful the eggs can be when you raise just three hens; my ladies lay about one per day in the spring, and help fertilize the compost, too.

Below are three recipes that use eggs as the primary source of protein:

Stir-fried noodles with winter vegetables
(makes two servings)

2 bundles Asian noodles, with about the same thickness and flat shape as linguine
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 cup broccoli florets
1 carrot, thinly sliced on a bias
2 scallions, thinly sliced
4-5 shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried and reconstituted), sliced
small knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced to matchsticks
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Chop all your vegetables and keep them within easy reach. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles, stirring occasionally, until just tender.

Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a large, wide chef’s pan or wok. Once hot, pour in the beaten eggs and stir frequently with your chopsticks to scramble (allow some parts to lightly brown). Once just cooked (about 1-2 minutes), transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Heat the remaining oil in the same pan and add the ginger. Once fragrant and beginning to sizzle, add all the vegetables except for the scallions. Season with a small pinch of salt and pepper and stir frequently about 1-2 minutes. Once the noodles are cooked, transfer to the pan and stir to combine. Add a splash of soy sauce and stir to incorporate. Taste and feel free to add more as desired. Return the eggs to the pan and add the scallions for one final toss. Serve immediately.

Lemony egg salad with basil and capers
(makes enough for about two to three sandwiches)

4 eggs
1 stalk celery, chopped finely
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
juice of half a lemon
3-4 basil leaves, sliced into chiffonades
2 teaspoons capers
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Place eggs in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, covered. Turn off heat and let sit for 15 minutes, covered (do not lift cover or else heat will escape). Prepare an ice bath. Drain the hot water and transfer eggs to the ice bath. Bang their sides so that each one cracks a little. Let cool at least 5 minutes. Peel shells off (it’s easiest to do this while holding the eggs underwater). Chop eggs into 1/2-inch or so pieces.

In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the mayonnaise. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add the celery and capers and stir. Add the eggs last and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fold mixture gently, just until thoroughly coated and the yolks have broken up just a bit to blend into the mayonnaise mixture. Arrange on toast or bread and top with the basil.

Caramelized fennel & sauteed greens quiche
(makes one approximately nine-inch quiche)

For the crust: 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut to cubes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:
6 large eggs
1 bunch leafy greens (such as Swiss chard, kale, beet greens), coarsely chopped
1 bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup milk
1/4 cup grated, firm, sheep’s milk cheese such as Dante or Manchego (or substitute any cheese)
salt and pepper to taste
pinch red chili flakes (optional)

Make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter (or pulse in a food processor) until mixture resembles fine crumbs with the butter chunks no larger than a pea. Add a little bit of the cold water at a time until mixture just clumps together in a ball. Shape dough with your hands into one large ball and another ball about 1/4 its size. Cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes (or up to overnight). Roll dough onto parchment or waxed paper into the size of your pie pan plus a few inches to crimp edges. Transfer dough to pan and crimp or even out edges as desired. If not using immediately, cover and chill until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, add about 1 tablespoon of the butter and cook fennel over low heat for eight to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if pieces begin to burn. Set aside and let cool. Place the same pan on the stove again over a medium-high flame. Add a splash of oil if dry. Sautee the leafy greens about one minute, seasoning with salt and pepper. Remove and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk and season with salt, pepper, and the optional chili flakes. Once cooled, add the caramelized fennel and the sauteed greens. Pour into prepared pie pan with dough. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until edges are golden and eggs are cooked through (poke with a fork or toothpick in the center to check). Cut into wedges to serve.