Is there anyone who doesn’t like onions? Slow cooked, roasted, caramelized, pickled, I’ll even eat the sweet ones raw! This week, we’re covering the best vegan and gluten free recipes to eat all the onions. Plus, how to choose the right ones for your recipe and cook them to the perfect texture.
Produce of the Week: Onions
How to Cook with Onions: The Base of Delicious Meals
Onions, a member of the allium family, are one of the most versatile fresh ingredients. They’re a staple in the cuisines of hundreds of countries, and for very good reason. Onions have delicious natural sweetness that doesn’t overpower other ingredients. Rather, they blend in and heighten other flavors.
In fact, in many cuisines, the most important dishes cannot be made without onions. A classic French stock requires a mirepoix. That’s a fancy term for a combination of onions, celery and carrot in a 2:1:1 ratio. From this long-simmered liquid, chefs make all of their sauces, soups and braises. That means that nearly every dish from the kitchen carries delicious onion power.
Creole and Cajun cooking relies on the holy trilogy, which is a combination of onion, bell pepper and celery. Jambalaya would be impossible without this savory vegetable foundation!
And in Asia, curry pastes from Thailand, Malaysia and India demand fresh onions or shallots for their delicious bite. Vietnamese Pho would be incomplete without delicate slices of white onion.
Here in the Crowded Kitchen, we rely on onions as much as anyone.
We start most of our savory recipes with a hefty amount of onions. Of course, as much as I love ’em, I’ll admit that raw onions can pack quite a bite. So, there are a few important tricks for cooking onions to turn their harsher flavors into a tender and sweet foundation for the rest of your ingredients.
How to choose the right kind of onion for your dish
Once you delve into the world of onions, you may be surprised to learn of all the different varieties. The allium family, which happens to be my personal favorite vegetable family, includes garlic, leeks, scallions and shallots. But onions themselves have even more variety:
- Sweet onions. These are big and pale colored. They have slightly flatter tops than other varieties. They’re great for caramelizing, because, surprise surprise, they’re sweeter!
- Yellow onions. Their dry brown outer skin hides an inner workhorse of a vegetable. Yellow are the most common onions, and you can use them for most cooked culinary uses.
- Red onions. These are the sharpest in color and flavor. We love them for pickling because the vinegar and sugar cuts all the harshness and brightens their delightful color. They’re beautiful and bright on tacos, fajitas, even salads.
- Pearl onions. These are the adorable little white ones that you might find floating (pickled) in your martini.
- Cipollini onions. A little bigger and flatter than pearl onions, these cuties make a delicious side dish simply roasted. They’re sweet and bite-sized.
How to start a dish with onions
Let’s talk about how to achieve the best onion texture for your dish. Onions span the texture spectrum from raw and crisp to melty and gooey, so it’s important to know what works best for your dish, and how to achieve it.
First, you can sweat onions. This doesn’t produce any color on the veggies. You often want to sweat onions for recipes like soups and sauces. Once you add liquid, like broth, you won’t get any more moisture out of the vegetables themselves. So you it’s important to cook the veggies to the soft texture you’d like to eat them in the soup before adding any liquid.
Sweating just means cooking to release as much moisture as possible. Here’s how to sweat onions:
- Add just enough oil to coat all sides of your cut onions to a non-reactive skillet over low heat.
- When the oil warms, add cut onions (and any other veggies you’d like to soften) and cook, stirring regularly.
- Eventually your onions will soften up and become translucent. Then, you can add any other ingredients, including liquids.
Secondly, you can caramelize onions. This produces those jammy, golden beauties that are irresistible not to eat right out of the pan. You’d likely caramelize onions for a dish in which you’re eating the onions as-is. For example, our roasted eggplant pasta. Or to top a pizza or fill a sandwich.
Here’s how to caramelize onions:
- Add enough butter or oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet.
- Over medium-low heat, add the onions and cook, stirring infrequently, until they pick up a lot of color and melt. Enjoy the kitchen smells.
- You can add flavorings like fresh thyme or garlic to the caramelizing onions as well. Just remember to remove any thyme sprigs before serving.
- When you’re finished caramelizing, if there’s a lot of delicious brown goo stuck to the bottom of your pan, add a splash of white wine or vinegar and scrape it all up. Bring the heat up a bit to cook off any alcohol too.
There are countless more ways to work onions into your food. You can easily roast them in the oven like other vegetables. Or, try quick pickling. But these are the two main stovetop cooking methods that we rely on. Now, for the best vegan onion recipes.
Best Appetizer & Condiment Recipes with Onions
Best Vegan Dinner Recipes with Onions
- Roasted Eggplant Pasta with Caramelized Onions
- Fall Harvest Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Wild Rice
- Fajita Sheet Pan Dinner
- Vegan Taco Lettuce Wraps
Best Vegan Soup Recipes with Onions
These are the recipes that you’ll want to sweat your onions for.
- Super Green Vegetable Soup
- Carrot Apple Ginger Soup
- Maple White Bean Vegetable Soup
- Creamy Vegan Tomato Soup
Just remember that you might be crying while you cut, but we promise you won’t be when you taste any of these onion-packed meals.
Food Waste Tip: Replant your Garlic
Staying in the allium family, did you know that you can plant your garlic cloves? That’s right, save a head of garlic to grown next year’s supply. Here’s how to grow a new garlic bulb from a single clove:
In well-drained, rock-free soil, place each garlic clove root-side down (pointy end up). You’ll need 4 to 6 inches between each clove, in rows at least a foot and a half apart.
You can plant garlic cloves in the fall or spring. Fertilize, weed and water as necessary depending on the type of bed you’re growing in. By the following June or July, you’ll have fresh green garlic scapes sprouting. Cut these off, as they’ll take energy away from the bulb itself. And eat them! You can use garlic scapes just like regular garlic. Try them minced into a salad dressing, or roasted whole on top of pizza.
When the above-ground parts of your garlic plants turn brown and dead-looking, it’s harvest time. Carefully dig up your bulbs, stalk and all. Lay them to dry for a couple of weeks in a well-ventilated space. They’re ready to eat now, but will last all year if properly dried.
Garlic grown this way may be bigger and juicier than what you started with. And the flavor of fresh garlic is milder. Next year, if you use these cloves to plant again, you’ll have even bigger garlic!
Now, whip up these roasted garlic mashed potatoes with all those scruptious cloves.
Currently Happening in the Food Industry
One of our favorite plant-based companies, Forager Project, recently partnered with Danone Manifesto Ventures unit. This section of the Danone company (you know them from Dannon yogurt, Activia, etc.), is a venture arm with the mission to “create a healthy and sustainable future of food”
Their investment portfolio includes sustainably-minded brands like Harmless Harvest and How Good here in the US. They also have several investments in France and Germany.
The partnership between Forager Project and Danone will help the family-owned vegan company double down on sustainability. That means a greater commitment to sustainable sourcing. Forager also plans to expand its product line.
Currently, Forager offers an array of vegan dairy products, including yogurts, milks and creamers. They recently launched vegetable chips as well. We can’t wait to see what they release next in light of this investment.