One of the most important vegetables in any kitchen, onions are currently generating more tears than ever before, with their prices touching almost `100 a kilo a while back in Mumbai. With this staple turning precious, looks like it’s time we learn to cook without them. But, is it that easy? “Yes, it is,” insists foodie Sunayan Shahani, “With onion prices hitting the rooftops, I am really envious of my Jain friends. Taking cue from their recipes, you can always prepare dishes like poha and pav bhaji — which one may not be able to imagine without onions — and make them delicious even without them.”
Do you like to begin your day with poha? You can do so without one of its main ingredients. Says Sunayan, “With poha, you can simply use peanuts, curry leaves, turmeric and chillies to spice it up, adding a dash of lime juice for that extra zing. Trust me, you won’t miss onions. Asafoetida or hing is a great substitute to onions as well. Use it in your pav bhaji or other gravy recipes for the same flavour.”South Indian dishes show the way
City-based chef Sudhir Pai has an interesting solution — adapt South Indian dishes to North Indian flavours. “In South Indian Brahmin communities, Kerala or even Bangalore, the dry veg component is always the vegetable itself and a tadka. And in wet preparations, coconut is used. A North Indian can adopt this cooking by using his or her traditional masala with this cooking style. You can have avial, tendli or parwal sans onions or the Mangalorean fish gassi or kori roti (chicken curry made with roasted spices). It’s also very beneficial to cook without onions as lesser oil would obviously be used.” Of course, Mughlai cooking might not be as easy to do without this ingredient. “If you have to make a Mughlai gravy, use khus-khus (poppy seeds), chaar magaz (pumpkin seeds) or cashewnuts ground in water. This might not be a cheap option, though,” he says.
Bengali food works well too
While several Indian dishes must have onions, some cuisines do away with them entirely, like Bengali food. Affirms blogger and foodie Kalyan Karmakar, “Most Bengali vegetarian recipes are onion-free. That’s because most Bengali kitchens were once ruled by family matrons who were widows. These ladies were not allowed onions in their diet, as onions were not considered vegetarian according to the Hindu scriptures followed in these houses.
Even the patla machher jhol is made without onions in Bengali homes. “It gets its flavours from turmeric, green chillies, kalo jeere or nigella seeds and occasionally chopped tomatoes. The more regal doi maachh (fish in yogurt sauce) also does not have onions,” he adds. He presents an alu posto recipe, minus onions…
Make alu posto
Boil one tablespoon of mustard oil. Add a teaspoon of panch phoron Bengali five spices and two whole green chillies. Add three parboiled potatoes cut into small cubes. Stir. Then, add the paste of 50 g of ground posto (poppy seeds) with water to the mix and stir. Add salt per taste and a quarter teaspoon of turmeric for colour. The latter is optional. Add half a tea cup of water and boil. Reduce the flame and let the mix simmer till the water dries up.