Q. Our teenage son has developed a serious allergy to onions, onion powder, all things onion. Given that most Shabbos and holiday meals use onions to prepare main courses, soups and kugels…latkes…is there an alternative that can be substituted for flavor, texture, etc? I’m stumped!
A. Seems there are more people than we realize who can’t eat onions, and most have to steer clear of the whole allium group, including leeks, chives, scallions, shallots and garlic.
I have to admit I’d be lost without onions. It’s definitely a love-hate relationship. They make me cry one minute, and then when my house smells delicious and visitors think I cooked up a storm when all they’re smelling is a plain ole’ pan of onions I want to kiss them.
But back to the real problem – what to use as an onion substitute. Here are a few ideas based on my research…
For raw salads, try very thin slices of fennel root, celeriac (celery root) or turnip.
To fill in for your mirepoix, you can try a combination of horseradish and chopped peppers. The green ones are usually more tart and acidic, the red and orange pepper varieties are sweeter.
For texture, either thinly sliced celery, turnip or jicama may work. Jicama will become soft when cooked or fried, but it will have more of a starchy consistency. It can also be used raw in cubes, sticks or shreds to add great subtle flavor to a salad or crudite platter.
As a seasoning instead of onion powder, try ground ginger, ground mustard seed, freshly ground peppercorns. A small amount of grated horseradish may also give you that kick that onions add to a cooked soup or casserole. If you can use a liquid, try using sweet citrus juice (orange, pineapple) combined with a vinegar to mimic the tart-sweet flavor.
I think we all know that the beauty of onions is their sort of generic, but tasty, flavor profile. Like salt, onions seem to enhance any dish whether raw or cooked. And unlike ginger, horseradish and fennel, they don’t have a really strong flavor of their own. Probably why everyone loves them. But alas, they have to go.
Lucky for you and your son, there is a world of flavors out there and you could look at this as an opportunity to try out some of the fabulous herbs on the grocery shelves, in your neighbor’s garden (tell them I sent you), or in your own spice cabinet.
(Don’t you hate it when people tell you challenges are opportunities?)