As much as I love to cook – and eat, of course – there is one food that I have despised most of my life. Onions! And onions are in so, so much.
Including this recipe. It’s kinda the star of the show.
Only in the last few years have I very slowly and reluctantly started eating and cooking with onions. I am not completely over my onion aversion, but I am getting there. I can handle onions if they are cooked and softened. I can eat green onions raw or cooked (you might notice from my blog recipes that I cook with those a lot.) But with the exception of green, I still can’t handle biting into raw onion. It’s a texture thing and it gives me the creeps.
A few weeks ago, I attended a Cabi party. The host, Caryn, had various appetizers for the guests, and one, she explained, was a homemade onion dip that was to be served at room temperature. Given my history with onions, I approached it cautiously and only took a little spoonful. But holy moly was it in incredible! It was so decadent and rich. I went back for thirds, maybe even fourths. I knew, given the richness, that it was probably full of ingredients that would make me gulp when I tracked it on WW.
After I told Caryn about the blog, she kindly shared the recipe – which a friend had emailed to her, and a Google search revealed was an Ina Garten recipe.
Caryn and I discussed ways of lightening it up. Some of the obvious changes were light mayo in place of the regular mayo, light cream cheese or Neufchatel in place of the regular cream cheese. And I opted for nonfat Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream.
Later, when I looked more closely at the recipe, I saw that the onions had been caramelized in 1/2 cup of butter and oil. Uffff. No wonder it tasted so rich.
Up to this point, the only way I knew to caramelize onions was in oil or butter. I felt stumped on how to lighten this portion of the recipe up. I mentioned this to my co-worker, Arlene. She is on a plant-based diet with her husband, John, who does the cooking. But Arlene knew that you could caramelize onions in vegetable broth.
I texted my bestie, Erica, who went to culinary school and is vegan, to ask her about this method. She quickly and excitedly replied, “You can actually caramelize onions with water!! This is the technique I learned in culinary school.” She cautions that if you use broth, to be careful about the sodium in the broth. But “luckily onions comes with their own strong flavor so oil and butter aren’t really necessary.”
This might not be news to you, but it was to me! I was now content to proceed with my lightened up version of that delectable dip I had tried at Caryn’s. It’s a bit of a labor of love, but I promise the end result is worth the effort.
First cut the onions in half, and then slice that into 1/8 inch thick half-rounds (Note: I personally overlooked the part about cutting it in half, so I had whole rings. I actually had to cut some of them down as I cooked them so don’t skip or overlook this step like I did.) Heat 1/4 cup of vegetable broth (I ended up using organic, low-sodium vegetable broth, but you can of course use water instead) in a large pan over medium heat, and once heated, add onions.
Let onions cook down, stirring occasionally. Once previous liquid has cooked off, add another 1/4 cup of vegetable broth – but only when moisture has completely disappeared and pan is dry (for me, this took about 15 minutes.) Repeat this – 1/4 cup about every 15 minutes or when pan is dry – until you’ve used up all of the broth (on the last 1/4 cup, add your salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper with the broth). It is done when you have achieved a deep brown color (NOT a yellow/gold, onions have caramelized when they have turned brown, but are not burnt). The whole process will take about an hour. I told you it was a labor of love.
Place Neufcahtel cheese, nonfat Greek yogurt, and light mayonnaise into a food processor, and blend well. Add caramelized onions and blend until dip is smooth.
Serve at room temperature with crudites, crackers, or chips.
***If you need additional help with the caramelization process, I highly recommend visiting Simple Sweet Vegan which had clear, easy-to-follow instructions with pictures and greatly helped me as I caramelized onions this way for the first time.