Thursday, April 2, 2009

Caramelized Onions

I recently read a post on one of the food blogs I follow, comparing caramelized onions to bacon. Specifically, "caramelized onions are the bacon of the vegetarian world." If you'd like to read her entire post, here's the link:

I've been using caramelized onions for years but they've been especially helpful this last year or so, as I've tried to cut saturated fat. The beauty of caramelized onions is that while they add a real punch of flavor and depth to your food, they add very little else. They are low in calories and fat and require no salt. They make a great topping for baked sweet potatoes (much lighter and more satisfying than sour cream or butter!), grilled or roasted meats, and provide a flavorful base for many vegetarian dishes.

The method is simple, but you must have patience. It might take twenty to thirty minutes to properly caramelize onions. I like to use two nice sized onions when I do this, as my family loves caramelized onions and there never seems to be enough otherwise. Cut the onions into thin strips, lengthwise. Warm a pan (not non-stick) over medium heat. When it is warm, add a thin film of olive oil to the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and let them cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. They will get translucent and then begin to brown. I don't like them as crispy as some people, so I keep a close eye on them as they cook, and turn the flame down if necessary. The onions will get soft and sweet and smoky. Taste them once they start browning to see how you like them best.

I came across a recipe for chana masala that begins with caramelized onions. This is a perfect example of using these onions to provide depth to a vegetarian dish. It was both delicious and easy. If you're interested, go to


  1. Hi Wendy.
    Wondering why not to use a non-stick pan. I would assume a cast iron would be good? I've been meaning to get one and this would be a good excuse:)

    Also, a good friend (whose blog is - it's fun, not all about food, but often about it and she has many food blog links) is a huge fan of orangette. Did you know she just published a book? A Homemade Life is the title. My friend went to a local booksigning here.

  2. Hi Jenn- with a non-stick pan you lose a little of the effect of the caramelizing. It's not that you want the onions to stick to the pan, but you want a little of the stuff that accumulates on the bottom of a regular pan that you don't get as well in a non-stick. It's almost like a glaze. If you have a regular metal saute pan, that would be fine too, and you can still use a non-stick if you have nothing else.

    I've read "A Homemade Life"! I was going to go to see her, but it was just a booksigning and she wasn't speaking. She's great! I'll have to check out your friend's blog.