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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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.
40g unsalted butter1 tbsp olive oil600g sweet onions, peeled, halvedand thinly sliced300g banana shallots, peeled, halvedand thinly sliced2 leeks, trimmed and finely sliced(white and pale green parts only)Salt and freshly ground black pepper1 tsp caster sugar4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced2 tbsp plain ﬂour250ml dry white wine1.2 litres hot fresh beef stock4 slices French bread100g Manchego cheese, finely grated1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
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
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.
200g pork fillet, finely sliced1 tsp cornﬂour1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherryPinch of salt1 tbsp groundnut oil4cm piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns,roughly crushed120g garlic chives, sliced into3cm lengths1 tsp toasted sesame oilSoy sauce, to serve
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
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.
For the tarator200g walnut halves1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed Salt and freshly groundblack pepper2 tbsp red-wine vinegar4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil,plus a little extra to serve
For the leeks24 baby leeks, trimmed1 tbsp olive oil
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
Farro, spelt, barley or even wild rice makes an excellent alternative to the wheat berries.
2 tbsp olive oil2 large red onions, peeled and finely slicedSalt and freshly ground black pepper1 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed200g wheat berries or grains120g Puy or Beluga lentilsLarge handful ﬂat-leaf parsley, chopped1 pomegranate, seeds and 3 tbsp juice150g goat’s curd (or soft goat’s cheese)
For the dressing1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve 1 tsp clear honey¼ tsp sumac, plus extra to serve
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
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.
For the salsa verde4 anchovies in olive oil, drained50ml milk1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped2 tbsp capers, rinsed and drained1 large bunch ﬂat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped100ml extra-virgin olive oilGood squeeze of lemon juice Salt and freshly groundblack pepper
For the baguettes400g banana shallots, peeled and halved3 tbsp olive oil3 tbsp good balsamic vinegar4 x 180g rump steaks, trimmed1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped1 large sourdough baguette, cut into 4 lengthsHandful watercress, large stalks removed
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
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.
1 tbsp groundnut oil2 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped2 green chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped2 sprigs fresh curry leaves1 tsp black peppercorns, roughly crushed1 tbsp tamarind paste150g fresh coconut, grated3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped3 small red or Thai shallots, peeled and finely chopped1½ tsp salt
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
Styling/ Karen Akhtar