Saga of an Onion saute ~ Basic Indian Cooking!

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When you feel you are already full to the brim with everyday activities, life just offers you a shock to get you realize that there is more to life than running around – cooking, playing and rushing to the office! This happened to us, which had us spinning. Athamma had a major cut in her finger tip while she was using the Mixie. It is quite a deep cut, has her bone fractured and she has her finger in a cast for the next few weeks.

Luckily the doctor says she will be able to get it back to action. She is more upset that this has caused a setback to our progress with the Book. Yeah, well but her health is more important than rest. So assured her that we can go at a snail pace right now. But I always get encouraged seeing the courage that people around me exhibit. I get back to feel reassured that there is always a silver lining behind every dark cloud! Athamma with her deep wound took some time to take a cloth, then locked the house before going to parent’s home. I am sure most would not have had such a courage and might even end up crying but I haven’t seen her shed a tear nor lament that she is faced with such adversary! Rather she was feeling sad that she had to top more work to us!

To top it all, she was asking me why I hadn’t updated the blog with anything new! So I didn’t want to make her feel things are difficult now. Just wanted to get on things as normal as possible. She was quite taken in with this picture I took with Onions. So I thought this should be it for today.

For me, there is no real cooking without Onions. I use Onion in different ways, forms, in different dishes. While I was thinking about it, I felt that I might as well document the different ways and talk about the terms that are used when referring to basics. These might sound strange for people who aren’t a foodie!

Onions not only enhances the taste but render bulk to the gravy. It’s one of the important ingredients used in making Indian gravies, sides dishes and many more dishes. Coming to think about it, I don’t think I have cooked any savory side dish or gravy without onions! And even if I had, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as my usual ones.

Below are few terms and methods normally used when dealing with cooking Onions. Depending on the dish prepared, you got to chop the onions or prep them accordingly. Like for examples, onions are always cut as julienne when used in a biryani, pulao or a Roasted vegetable. Whereas as Squared pieces when used in Tikkas, Kothu Parotas etc.

Blanch – Regular red/white Onions are chopped into big cubes and immersed in boiling water to give more body to the gravy. Shallots, which are quite hard to peel, can be easily peeled when you blanch them in water. Most of the time, I even put them in a bowl of normal water.

Browning / Caramelize – This is normally done as a garnish process, where a biryani is garnished with caramelized onions. Onions are cooked in fat/butter until it is browned. This process brings out the sweetness and adds color to the dish to which it is added. This is done in slow flame, where the onions absorb the fat and turn thick.

Grate or Shred – Grated onions give out a pungent flavour and adds zing to dishes like chat, salads etc. These are normally grated just when ready to serve. Peeled onions can be held against the holes of a grater making thin pieces and fall directly over the salad. This way the juice that falls out, adds more flavor. Dishes like Masala papad gets tastier when topped with grated onions.

Deep-fry – This is normally done by completely cooking the onions in hot oil until golden brown. This is almost same as caramelize only these are very crisp. These can be added to savory snacks.

Dice – Onions are cut into cubes. Ok, when I don’t like to eat the onions in certain dishes, I normally dice them into squares. It’s easy to parse them out. Again these cubes can be small, medium or large. In certain dishes, they add volume and look to the whole dish. Like the diced squares of onions in Kothu Parotta. Dicing is slightly less exact as cubing is but still should have uniformity.

Julienne – Onions are into very thin strips. This is normally done to onions that are added to biryanis and certain roasted dishes, where you want the onions to be well cooked but made its presence felt.

Mince – For thick gravies, you want to give body to the gravy by adding minced onions and sautéing them. These are normally cut or chopped into very fine pieces. Most gravies or chutneys gets onions this way.

Parboil – When you eat in a restaurant and wonder why we never get that same taste at home, it’s mostly because of this technique. Onions are parboiled and then ground before adding to the gravy. Since it’s partially cooked, it’s easy to cook the gravy. But most important, it removes the raw smell and adds more volume to the gravy.

Puree – This is possible the next step one does after parboil. The onions are run in a blender or food processor. We get more of a smooth paste, which is easy to cook. We can even store this puree for a couple of days.

Sauté – This is normally done using a smaller quantity of oil/fat. But requires you to frequently toss it around the pan. This is normally done in high flame and is mostly the first way to get them browned. I mostly do this with onions that go into chutneys or Kurmas. It enhances the taste when they sautéed and then ground into a paste. This process doesn’t get the onions to be very brown or over cooked.

Sweat: The process of cooking the onions in a covered pan until they are soft on slow flame. This not only gets them cooked but the chopped onions hold their shape. These are mostly used in making side dishes, where you want the onions to make their presence felt.

Stir-fry – This is normally done in a kadai or wok. The food is tossed about in a hot pan with very little oil, this is very similar sautéing but slightly different.

Well, these are what I could think about. Let me know if you have anything else! Would love to hear about other methods that I might have missed!

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  1. Oh dear! Hope her fingers are healing quickly. Did she put her hand inside the mixie when it’s on, trying to push down the masala or something?
    I always try do that with rubber spatula when I know I should turn off the mixie first!
    great post about onions. I saute the onion first and then grind it to paste, can’t stand the smell of raw onions! 😀
    Take care Sri, got to be careful when we cooking, Hugs.

  2. Sorry to hear about Athamma. We have some much to learn from people of Athama’s generation isn’t it. Wish she gets well soon.

    Nice post on different uses of Onion. Good pics.

  3. Sorry to hear about Athamma's injury. Hope she gets better soon.

    And this is a great post. I add onions to everything, and the way they are chopped & cooked makes a huge difference to flavor.

  4. hello srivalli, i fully agree with u that there no real cooking withought onion. in muglai dishes onion is must and our cooks first makes a BIRISTA before making any biryanis, kormas or khalia etc. birista is golden fried onion. so it is well informative aricle. thansk.

  5. That sounds so bad Srivalli … hope she will fine soon.
    That is a good post on onions … never thought of parboiling the onions … so nice of you for this input. 🙂

  6. Oh dear, I hope your Athamma gets well soon, and is not it too much of pain. Yes, you are right, normal life is stressful enough, and then something like this happens that throws everything out of whack. My best wishes to her.
    Any hints for preventing the eyes from watering while cutting onions?

  7. Hi,

    I am eagerly waiting to try your soyabean,with urad dal,and rice dosa.

    Since I have some boilt soyabean cooked and kept in the fridge. Can i make use of it to make dosa this time. Do you think it wl turn out to be o.k.


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