As a kid — like almost all kids, I imagine — I was resolutely against onions. No, not in any dishes, please and thank you. And I was totally convinced that I could tell when they were in something. Until my mum did a little experiment. With my eyes closed, she gave me a piece of cooked celery and a piece of sauteed onion to taste. If I could tell them apart, I won. And if I couldn’t, then I wasn’t allowed to complain about onions ever again.
Even though it was a 50-50 shot.
Now, I find the whole thing amusing. These days, almost all of my favourite dishes start with sauteeing some diced onions in butter or olive oil or both. (Like this one or this one or this one. Huh. Think I have a pasta addiction? Yeah.)
Of course, they don’t have to just be the start of a dish.
A few months ago, over at my day job, I wrote a piece about saving the standard sandwich. I made some jazzed up mayo with lemon juice and a whole bunch of herbs and then I made onion jam. That was my first time making it and it was a revelation. Sweet and savoury, rich and that slight hit of vinegar. Dear god help me, I was eating it with a fork. Seriously. And I had just made some no-knead bread and I had a chunk of brie and for the next three days, that became my go-to snack. (That and the herb mayo on toast with thin slices of tomato. Drool.)
A few weeks ago, I made a little Mexican feast (guacamole — recipe coming — and slow-cooked pork and tortillas) and at the last second, I thought nothing could improve this delicious trifecta than a little zing from pickled onions. I did a quick surf around the web, found a recipe and whipped them up. It made those little tacos sing. Seriously.
And then, a few days ago, I bought two red onions for reasons that are entirely unclear to me. And so, with two red onions and two recipes that would transform those little purple globes into something amazing, (And that’s with me liking red onions to begin with.) I got cracking.
I made Pickled Onions and Onion Jam.
I didn’t have brie this time around, so I’ve been eating the onion jam with Monterey Jack. Less fancy, still tasty. And I don’t have homemade tortillas, slow-roasted pork and guacamole, but I do have toasted bagels and ripe avocados that I’ve just mashed on top before lacing on top a few forkfuls of pickled onions. So simple, so good.
One quick note on the pickled onions: I made them the first time without the fennel and the second time with. Since I don’t love fennel, I will probably leave it out from now on. But if you do actually like fennel, then go for it. Other recipes I found also called for allspice berries (don’t have any; trying really hard to stop buying ingredients for just one recipe) and dried chiles (don’t have any and didn’t really want that kick of heat.) So, in short, this is totally adaptable. This is how I did it this time around.
Adapted from several sources.
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole cloves
- 5 peppercorns
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into rings
In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the onion slices and lower heat, simmering gently for about a minute. Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer the onions and the liquid into a container and refrigerate.
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
- 2 red onions, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch (1/2-cm) moons
- 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
- 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh thyme
- ¼ cup (60 mL) balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar
- pinch salt
In a saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until melted.
Add onions and a pinch of salt (which helps to draw out the onions’ moisture) and garlic (if using); saute until onions are cooked and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add sugar and thyme, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Add vinegar. Simmer until it is thick and has a jam-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic clove.