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The subtlety of onions

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My mother gave me two of the biggest red onions I'd ever seen in my life. They each weighed just short of 400g and I could only hold one in my hand at a time. I only needed to use half of one for a pasta sauce and I cried the whole time I was chopping it up.

You could never call a red onion subtle, but it can be subdued with heat. And once onions are tempered, they show a whole different side. An onion jam is the perfect dish to make and can be eaten in many ways ­­– spread on toast, tossed through pasta, baked in a tart...

Makes 1½ cup
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable/sunflower oil
4 cups red onions (about 400g), sliced thinly
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Melt butter and oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally until they soften and begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, reduce heat to low and simmer until the mixture becomes thick and all the liquid is gone, about 25 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
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Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for aubergine kuku in The Guardian inspired me to try a similar dish since I needed to use up some aubergine I had fried up. I also had some dried barberries which I'd got a while ago for an Iranian rice dish I was cooking and writing about ("1,001 bites", Don't Call Me Chef, Oct 2009) ­­– I've kept the berries in the fridge so they're still good. If you can't find barberries, Ottolenghi says to add lime juice to the mix. I've adapted the Iranian kuku to include cubes of fried potato and onion jam.

It's basically a load of vegetables held together with a little egg. I used four medium eggs but I think even three would have been sufficient. I wish I could be more precise with the quantity of aubergine and potatoes ­­– how big is "medium" or "large", right? ­­– but if you have about 2 cups of each after they are fried, that would be about right.

2 medium aubergine, cut into 2cm cubes and pan-fried/baked until golden
2 large potatoes, cut into 1cm cubes and pan-fried until golden
3 tablespoons onion jam (recipe above)
4 medium free-range eggs
1 tbsp plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons dried barberries, rinsed and dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
Large pinch of saffron strands, mixed with 1 tbsp of hot water
Salt and black pepper
  • Beat eggs, flour and baking powder together. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and season to taste. Pour mixture into a greased 21cm tart dish and bake in a preheated 190°C oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown and cooked through ­­– test the centre with a skewer to see if the egg has set. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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