When I’m running low on time, energy, groceries, or all three, I like to whip up my “emergency eggs”: I just chop up whatever leftover cooked vegetables are stashed in the refrigerator, toss them in a hot skillet with beaten eggs, and stir until curds form. Whether they’re for breakfast, brunch, or dinner, these healthful scrambles always satisfy, even if they are a little rough around the edges. But I knew that if I gave them some attention, I could come up with recipes worth repeating.
My fresh take on scrambled eggs meant staying away from heavy add-ins such as meat and cheese and mundane vegetables such as onions and bell peppers. As I experimented with more contemporary options, I nixed spinach and Swiss chard; they tended to weep after cooking, making the eggs watery. Superdelicate greens, such as baby arugula, were also out: They liked to clump, which made them difficult to disperse evenly.
Perhaps I needed to think further outside the box or, more accurately, outside the fridge: Gazing into the pantry, I spotted a can of pinto beans. Beans are often served alongside Mexican egg dishes such as huevos rancheros or migas, so why not put them directly into the eggs?
For a bit of personality, I sizzled minced garlic and some chopped jarred jalapeños in olive oil in a nonstick skillet before adding the drained beans along with a few tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro. I cooked the mixture for a minute or so until any moisture evaporated, transferred it to a bowl, and then wiped the skillet clean with paper towels so I could use it to cook the eggs.
But before I did that, I wanted to ensure that the eggs would be tender. Eggs get tough when their proteins bond too tightly. One way around that is to dilute them with liquid, which prevents the proteins from linking up too quickly and closely. The test kitchen likes to add half-and‑half, which makes fantastic classic scrambled eggs. But for this fresher take, I really wanted to use extra‑virgin olive oil. Its grassy savoriness would be an ideal complement to the earthy pintos. Two tablespoons of oil for eight eggs kept them loose and lubricated.
Since I was already beating oil into the eggs, I also used a couple of teaspoons to cook them. The test kitchen’s method for producing large, billowy curds has two stages: Start the eggs over medium-high heat, folding them gently but constantly for about a minute to form large curds. Then, reduce the heat to low to gently finish cooking them and to provide ample time to remove them from the skillet before they overcook. It was important to return the beans to the pan when the curds were well established but still a little wet so the eggs could set up around them to create a cohesive dish.
I now had large, tender egg curds studded with creamy pink beans and flecks of chopped cilantro and jalapeños. I didn’t want to overload the eggs with gobs of cheese, but I thought that a bit of cotija—a dry, crumbly, salty Mexican cheese—might be a worthy addition. Indeed, just an ounce of it perked things up. Sprinkled with more chopped cilantro and served with a stack of warm tortillas and a bottle of hot sauce, these eggs made a quick, fresh, anytime meal.
Using the pinto bean recipe as a template, I created two variations. For the first, I went back to where the inspiration for these eggs had started: the refrigerator. There, I found half a pound of asparagus that, when cut into 1/2-inch pieces, would integrate nicely into the fluffy curds. I pan-steamed the pieces with a little garlic until they were crisp-tender. While the cooked asparagus waited in a bowl, I scrambled the eggs. After incorporating the asparagus at the last minute, I dressed up the finished scramble by draping glossy smoked salmon on top and showering it with minced fresh chives.
For my second variation, I sliced and sautéed earthy shiitake mushrooms, which fared well in a scramble since they were light enough not to weigh down the curds. A modest amount of salty, tangy feta and a sprinkle of woodsy minced fresh thyme were ideal accents to the meaty mushrooms.
Here was a trio of egg dishes that I was proud to serve up—emergency or not.