Last Chance Foods: Sweet On Onions

Friday, March 21, 2014

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.


Amanda Cohen

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings


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Comments [8]

John Gallagher from Brooklyn

If you are fortunate enough to have a range hood that actually vents to the outdoors, turn it on a few minutes before chopping the onions. Bring the board to the top of the stove (cool of course) and chop or slice as the onion gas is vented away.

Mar. 22 2014 06:36 PM

The best tip for not crying for chopping onions that has worked on me is to take a mouth full of water and keep it in your mouth while chopping. Wine works as well. Works every time! No tears!

Mar. 22 2014 01:25 PM

Put the onion in the freezer for 2-3 minutes before chopping, no tears!

Mar. 21 2014 10:25 PM
Jeffrey Rothstein from NYC

Easy breezy to fix the "onions make me cry" issue

A very sharp knife- a dull blade opens the cellular membranes and releases the onion gas which are compounds of sulfanic acids which when they hit your eyes forms a mild sulfuric acid with your eye moisture which that makes you cry.

Bytheway keep your onions COLD!! not frozen- bad for all veggies but a cold onion will not release volatile vapors as readily.

Mar. 21 2014 06:15 PM
Nancy from Freeport, N.Y.

I have suffered so from onions! Eyes swollen and burning even the next day! THEN I got my first pair of RSVP Onion Goggles. I'm on my third pair and swear by them. I also use medical exam gloves to avoid the onion smell transfer to my hands. Better than Amco Rub Away metal shaped as a bar of soap.

Mar. 21 2014 05:58 PM
George McDermott from Manhattan

I have rubbed the cut side of an onion with vinegar and that worked very well to prevent crying. You do have to rinse the onions off before continuing with the recipe. It really works. My eyes are very sensitive.

Mar. 21 2014 05:54 PM
hilary from brooklyn

To mitigate the sorrow of onion chopping, I just rinse my hands in cold water when the tears threaten to flow. I don't know why it works, but it does for me, and for others I've mentioned it to.

Mar. 21 2014 05:53 PM

Put the onions in the fridge.

Mar. 21 2014 05:52 PM

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About Last Chance Foods

Last Chance Foods covers produce that’s about to go out of season, gives you a heads up on what’s still available at the farmers market and tells you how to keep it fresh through the winter.


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