I was three when my obsession for onions began, or so the story goes. As a little girl my mother tells me I would pick off the crunchy, lemony onions from my family's plates around their table in Chandigarh, where I was born and where my grandparent's home is to this day. It seems I've passed this obsession onto my own two girls. They could brush their teeth and still come back for a slice of spicy, lemony onion. That's how much we love them in this Indian-American household.
It's also where I wanted to start my series of Indian Prep Kitchen posts. Many of you have asked me to give you more guidelines on how I organize my kitchen, my spices, and even my groceries. I hope this post and future ones like it will encourage you to incorporate a few simple practices in your own kitchens so that making Indian - making anything - will be easier in your own homes.
While spices are key to Indian food, as a Punjabi Indian, I wanted to start where my obsession for Indian food begins - with onions. They are critical to our Indian Punjabi cooking. We not only cook with them, but we also eat them raw along with our meal as a salad, or chopped on top of our dal (lentils) for added texture and tanginess. Outside of a few subcultures in India, the onion is very important to our particular cuisine.
And, it's why I keep them on hand and prepped in a few specific ways. We tend to favor yellow onions. The white, sweet onions are a bit too sweet for our various curries, which are always slightly tart and tangy. I also pick up a few red onions to have on hand for salads. Then, I go to work peeling them. All of them. These below have been peeled, trimmed, washed, and dried. Remember, when prepping fruit and veggies ahead of eating them, it's vital that you dry them of all moisture before putting them into the fridge. If still wet, they will spoil faster.
Remember, only peel and store the number of onions you'll go through during your week. If you want to store them with their papery outer layer, keep them in a dry spot like a pantry. The key is to keep them whole in the fridge to avoid the funny smell that can come off onions if they are cut and stored in a fridge drawer. I find this technique super handy - I just cannot be bothered to peel onions during my packed weeks - and this simple step makes meal prep that much easier.
Now, onto slicing and dicing. There are four ways I'll typically prep my onions. I'll grind four or so in a food processor. Perfect for curries and adding to my slow cooker. A portion of this ground version will stay in my fridge (it's good for about a week and a half), while the remaining portion I'll dole into a small ice-cube tray and freeze. No need to add any oil or water. I'll pop a cube out into my slow cooker in the morning and I'm usually good to go. Or, I'll leave it in a bowl to defrost in the fridge for dinner that evening.
The other three dices include sliced, diced, and rounds. The sliced is great for salads (with lemon juice, black salt, and red chile powder). The diced is perfect when I need a little crunch in my dal or sprinkled over a dish as I'm about to serve it. And, the rounds, are great for browning. You can leave them as rounds or slice them into half-moons.
For the browned onions, add 2-4 tablespoons of oil to a pan, 2 sliced onions, and a dash of salt. Cook about 5 minutes until brown. You can cook them longer (a total of about 30-40 minutes) if you truly want to caramelize them, but I find these browned, crispy onions are perfect additions to curries or a biryani. And, frankly, delicious on sandwiches and veggie burgers.
I always store my chopped ingredients in glass containers in the fridge. My absolute favorite is working glasses. They are essentially drinking glasses with lids. The 14 oz. is a perfect size and stack well.
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Happy prepping, happy cooking!