Last Chance Foods: Sweet On Onions

Consider the onion: It forms the backbone of so many dishes, but rarely serves as a main ingredient. Is it because we’re worried about the stink of onion breath? Dirt Candy chef Amanda Cohen says to grab some toothpaste and just get over it.

“That’s why [toothpaste] was invented, right?” she said. “You can’t be afraid of a vegetable. The vegetable’s way more afraid of you.”

There are plenty of ways beyond traditional French onion soup to make the humble allium a star ingredient. At Dirt Candy, Cohen began serving a grilled onion salad with red onions and shallots. The side became so popular that it won a spot on the menu as a main salad.

Red onions are particularly good in salad and stir-fries because they’re sweeter than white or yellow onions. They also add a welcome pop of color.

Vidalia onions are so sweet that Cohen is incorporating them into a dessert. “We’re just actually caramelizing them and mixing them right now into a... fudge kind of chocolate,” she said. “And it’s almost like a chocolate prune tart. That’s what it tastes like, and it’s sort of blowing all of our minds how delicious it is.”

(Photo: Amanda Cohen/Courtesy of Dirt Candy)

Chefs at Dirt Candy have also made tiny fried onion blossoms with pearl onions. Cohen explained that she uses Spanish onions and white onions interchangeably.

“Spanish onions you can always use for soups stocks, flavoring oils, that kind of thing,” she said. “[Use them] when you really want a cooked onion that’s going to disappear.”

Unfortunately, those onions are the most tear-inducing to prep, according to the chef. She knows people who chew on the unburnt end of a used match, or a toothpick, to prevent tearing up. “I’m not sure if that really works,” Cohen said. “I like the idea of sunglasses, goggles. You could do that, too, I suppose if you’re chopping copious amounts.” For her, wearing contacts has been a foolproof solution.

Try out Dirt Candy's recipe for grilled onion salad with fermented black bean dressing and scallion oil. That’s below.

Grilled Onion Salad

This salad is really, really easy on purpose. I wanted to make a rustic salad that let the real flavor of onions shine through. The dressing is the tricky part, but it’s worth the effort because of all the layers of taste it adds. Not enough people use fermented black beans, but they add an amazing, deep, complex flavor to everything.

  • 2 cups sliced red onions
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
  • 3 bunches of scallions
  • 1 cup picked cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup picked parlsey
  • 1 cup picked thai basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup Fermented Black Bean Dressing (see below)
  • Salt to taste

1. Heat a grill until it’s super-hot, almost smoking. In a bowl, toss the whole scallions with olive oil then lay them flat on the grill. Cook until grill marks form, and they’re nice and soft. Remove from the grill and chop them up.

2. Do the exact same thing for the sliced red onions. Toss with oil, put on grill until char marks form, then pull off.

3. Mix everything together in a bowl, and season to taste.

Fermented Black Bean Dressing

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons fermented black beans
  • 7 cloves garlic
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 cup shoyu
  • 1 cup Scallion Oil (see below)
  • salt to taste

1. Soak the black beans in cold water for about 1 hour. Drain. Reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons of the water.

2.In a blender or a Vitamix, blend everything together until smooth. Add the bean water to keep it moving.

Scallion Oil

  • 1 cup chopped scallions
  • 1 cup sliced ginger
  • 1 1/2 cup untoasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt

1. Mix everything except the oil together in a heat resistant bowl (metal or glass).

2. Heat oil on the stove until almost smoking.

3. Gently pour the oil over the mixture in the bowl.

4. Wait until cool, at least 1 hour, and blend in a VitaMix or blender until smooth.