No onion, no cry

Chopped onions. Photo: M. Periasamy  

Onions love to make us cry, literally. Their soaring rate these days definitely does. Yet, they are also an integral part of our kitchen and cuisine. Talk of paneer, pulao, chicken, mutton or biryani and the first and the most essential ingredient that comes to mind is that of the basic spices — onions, ginger, garlic, etc. A chicken curry may seem impossible without it but is there a substitute for an onion which can make the dish taste the same? Is there a way to cut corners by reducing /leaving out the onion and still prepare the dishes to taste equally good?

Adapt healthy shift

“Why not adapt ourselves to the situation? While doing so, let’s take the example of Jain cuisine and learn from a community who have been eating delicious food sans these basic spices — onions, ginger. Despite the absence of these ingredients , their food is tasty and wholesome; it’s a unique style of cooking,” says Nitin Mathur,

Executive Chef, Taj Krishna. Pointing out the theories of using onions in our gravies, Nitin says that onions are used to get the thickness in the gravies. However, some communities make their gravies thicker with the use of ingredients such as nuts, coconut milk and coconut, four magaj paste, tomato paste and even mustard paste. “I find that a healthy and economical shift is good and advisable — both as a chef and as a man who needs to pay the bills,” he laughs.

But then we wonder if the Hyderabadi biryani and the Bagara rice would still be the same without onions.

Look for new ways and back to basics

An authority in Hyderabadi and Deccani cuisine, Mahboob Shah Alam Khan declares, “The dollar is soaring and with it we are crying over the price of onions. Let’s apply the simple law of demand — less demand- lower prices and while doing so we can resort to recipes and cooking techniques of dishes which require less or no onions. A party can still be hosted and one need not lay plain rice on the table. Pulaos are possible without onions , after all Central India’s pulaos are mostly without onions. Jains have been eating and leading a healthy life without onions forever. And instead cooking the usual varieties we can think of cooking dishes like bitter gourd, bottle gourd, capsicum, roasts in meats, fish fry and grilled and the famous Sukha Alu (potato dry fry). Our famous khatti dal requires no onions. What else do we need?”

Go grill

As far as meat and fish are concerned, chefs recommendwe go the barbeque or grilled way. “These techniques hardly require onion and they are healthy ways of eating meat and fish.”

Other alternatives

Hardcore foodie and entrepreneur Anisa Arif (who owns an online spice store Zaiqa) adds to suggestions by chef Nitin; her tips and tricks could in fact surprise home makers. She suggests a host of raw ingredients: “Cabbage, thinly sliced is a good substitute. Fry them like onions and proceed to make your gravy. Alternatively cauliflower stem blanched in hot haldi water (to remove its odour) can be used in place of onions in Indian recipes.” .

Her other favourite suggestions are curd ground with a few cashew or melon seeds with little zeera. Kerala style cooking with a mix of spice and coconut paste or coconut milk is another option, Anisa suggests.

“Or else, go Shahi — Mughlai style. Grated Kaddu (bottlegourd) is also a great way to replace onions .

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 1:25:13 PM |

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