Onion recipes to delight the senses

Alice Hart explores the culinary potential of flavoursome alliums, from shallots and leeks to garlic and chives.

The allium genus is vast and pivotal to cooks around the world; I can scarcely imagine my kitchen without them. Whether in the form of onions, shallots, leeks, garlic or chives, they can impart comforting sweetness and caramel hints, layers of richness or sharp, fiery notes. Yet so often they play only a supporting role in cookery. These dishes aim to remedy that, making the allium the star. Incidentally, never trust a recipe that claims onions can be softened in three minutes; they require slow, gentle cooking. The best things are always worth waiting for.

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FOUR-ALLIUM SOUP

Onion recipes

Serves 4

The attention you give the alliums – a full house of sweet onions, shallots, leeks and garlic in this case – as they slowly soften and caramelise is the key to this comforting, richly flavoured soup.

Ingredients

40g unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
600g sweet onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
300g banana shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 leeks, trimmed and finely sliced (white and pale green parts only)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp caster sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml dry white wine
1.2 litres hot fresh beef stock
4 slices French bread
100g Manchego cheese, finely grated
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

Method

1. Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy-based lidded saucepan. Add the onions, shallots and leeks with a pinch of salt, partially cover and cook gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very soft and hardly coloured.

2. Sprinkle with sugar and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the onions and leeks begin to caramelise to a rich, golden colour. You may need to increase the heat slightly to encourage this; they should be extremely sweet and tender. Stir in the garlic and cook for 5 minutes more.

3. Add the flour, stirring well. Increase the heat and gradually add the wine and stock as you stir. Bring to the boil, partially cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste.

4. To serve, toast the bread lightly on both sides under the grill. Divide the soup between heatproof bowls and put a slice of toast on top of each. Top with the grated cheese and half the thyme and grill until melted and bubbling. Scatter with the remaining thyme leaves and serve, taking care as the bowls will be very hot.

SICHUAN STIR-FRIED PORK WITH GARLIC CHIVES

Onion recipes

Serves 3

Garlic chives, treated here as a vegetable rather than a herb, are available in Asian food shops. To replicate their mild flavour and distinctive texture, use a mixture of standard chives and roughly chopped spring onions along with a crushed garlic clove. Serve this dish with steamed rice.

Ingredients

200g pork fillet, finely sliced
1 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp groundnut oil
4cm piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns, roughly crushed
120g garlic chives, sliced into
3cm lengths
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
Soy sauce, to serve

Method

1. Prepare all the ingredients before you begin. In a mixing bowl, combine the pork, cornflour and rice wine with a large pinch of salt. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the pork to marinate.

2. Put the oil in a wok and set over a high heat, until smoking. Add the ginger and chilli and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the crushed Sichuan pepper and pork and fry for 30 seconds, until the pork begins to brown. Add the chives, stirring for 1-2 minutes, until they start to wilt.

3. Stir in the sesame oil and a good splash of soy sauce and serve at once with steamed jasmine rice.

GRIDDLED LEEKS WITH WALNUT TARATOR

Onion recipes

Serves 4

Use young, tender and slim leeks; any stems thicker than your thumb will be too large. If these are not available, use whole spring onions instead.

Ingredients

For the tarator
200g walnut halves
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground
 black pepper
2 tbsp red-wine vinegar
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to serve

For the leeks
24 baby leeks, trimmed
1 tbsp olive oil

Methods

1. To make the tarator, lightly toast the walnuts in a dry pan over a medium heat, shaking often to prevent burning. Put 180g of them in a food processor with the garlic and a pinch of salt and pulse until finely ground.

2. With the motor running, gradually pour in the vinegar and olive oil with 100ml water to form a creamy, but not completely smooth, sauce. Cover and set aside, until needed. (This sauce can be made ahead and chilled for three days, but you will need to beat in a little warm water to loosen before serving.)

3. To cook the leeks, pack them snugly in a single layer into two frying pans, pour over boiling water until just covered, then add a large pinch of salt to each pan. Simmer for 4 minutes, or until just tender. Drain the leeks, refresh under cool water and drain again.(This can be done up to 24 hours in advance; keep the leeks in the fridge until needed.)

4. Place a griddle pan over a high heat until smoking hot. Toss the leeks with the tablespoon of oil and season well. Working in batches (don’t overcrowd the pan or the leeks won’t char properly), put a single layer of leeks on the griddle and cook for 2 minutes on each side until nicely charred. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest of the leeks.

5. Scatter the remaining walnuts over the tarator, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve alongside the griddled leeks.

RED ONION, WHEAT BERRY, LENTIL AND POMEGRANATE SALAD WITH GOAT’S CURD

Onion recipes

Serves 4

Farro, spelt, barley or even wild rice makes an excellent alternative to the wheat berries.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
2 large red onions, peeled and finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed
200g wheat berries or grains
120g Puy or Beluga lentils
Large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 pomegranate, seeds and 3 tbsp juice
150g goat’s curd (or soft goat’s cheese)

For the dressing
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve 1 tsp clear honey
¼ tsp sumac, plus extra to serve

Method

1. Warm the olive oil in a large pan. Add the sliced onions with a generous pinch of salt and soften over a low heat for 20 minutes.

2. Turn up the heat and fry for another 10 minutes, until the onions begin to crisp at the edges. Add the coriander seeds and cook for 1 minute more. Set aside.

3. Meanwhile, put the wheat berries and lentils in a saucepan with 700ml cool water and bring to the boil. Cover and reduce the heat, leaving the berries to simmer for 25-30 minutes, until tender. Drain any remaining water, then cover the pan and set aside.

4. To make the dressing, combine all of the ingredients with the pomegranate juice in a lidded jar and shake vigorously. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

5. Toss the grains and lentils with the dressing, parsley and pomegranate seeds. Top with spoonfuls of goat’s curd, a little extra olive oil and a scattering of sumac.

STEAK SANDWICH WITH ROAST SHALLOTS, SALSA VERDE AND WATERCRESS

Onion recipes

Makes 4 large sandwiches

Banana shallots are superior roasters, becoming tender and sweet in very little time. They are the perfect foil to this fabulous sandwich with its sharp salsa verde, seared steak and peppery watercress.

Ingredients

For the salsa verde
4 anchovies in olive oil, drained
50ml milk
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
Good squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground
 black pepper

For the baguettes
400g banana shallots, peeled and halved
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
4 x 180g rump steaks, trimmed
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large sourdough baguette, cut into 4 lengths
Handful watercress, large stalks removed

Method

1. To make the salsa verde, put the anchovies and milk in a bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse the anchovies; this will reduce their saltiness.

2. Put the anchovies in the small bowl of a food processor with the garlic, capers, parsley and mint. Pulse a few times, stopping to scrape the herbs back down towards the blades. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, along with some black pepper. Pulse again to form a textured, pesto-like sauce – you don’t want it to become too smooth. The salsa will keep in the fridge, covered with a layer of olive oil and cling film, for up to 5 days.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6. Put the shallots in a small roasting tin, season and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 40 minutes until very soft. Uncover, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until caramelised.

4. Rub the steaks with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the garlic. Set aside at room temperature for 15 minutes, then season generously.

5. Put a griddle pan over a high heat until smoking hot. Griddle the steak for 2-3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness, for medium-rare. Remove to a plate to rest. Meanwhile, split the baguette lengths in half and lay the cut sides in the griddle pan for a minute, until lightly toasted.

6. Spread one half of each baguette length generously with salsa verde and top with watercress. Slice the steaks thickly and arrange on top. Spoon over the roast shallots and serve the rest alongside. Don’t forget to add any steak juices that have collected on the plate to each baguette.

RED SHALLOT, GINGER AND COCONUT SAMBAL

Onion recipes

Serves 4 as an accompaniment

This fiery, sour and fragrant Sri Lankan sambal will pep up simple charred prawns in their shells or griddled fish fillets. It makes an exceptionally delicious meal served alongside cooling cucumber and sticky rice to balance the flavours. Bunches of fresh curry leaves are sold in Asian and other speciality food shops, and larger branches of major supermarkets.

Ingredients

1 tbsp groundnut oil
2 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
1 tsp black peppercorns, roughly crushed
1 tbsp tamarind paste
150g fresh coconut, grated
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 small red or Thai shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1½ tsp salt

Method

1. Put a frying pan over a low to medium heat and add the oil. Fry the chillies and the curry leaves for a few minutes, stirring constantly.

2. Using a pestle and mortar or the small bowl of a food processor, grind the chillies and curry leaves with the crushed peppercorns. Pound or blend in the tamarind paste, followed by the coconut, garlic, shallots and salt, ensuring the sambal retains some texture.

3. To serve with prawns, toss 24 tiger prawns with half a tablespoon of groundnut oil and season well. Spread out in a single layer in a smoking-hot griddle pan (you may need to do this in two batches) and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until the prawns are pink all over with charred shells. Serve alongside bowls of warm water with sliced lemon and napkins to clean up sticky fingers.

Photography/ Kristen Perers

Recipes/ Alice Hart

Styling/ Karen Akhtar

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