I am always searching for something piquant to serve with Thanksgiving fare. Cranberry sauce fulfills part of this every year and this year, my discovery of boiled apple cider to glaze radishes and embellish roasted roots turned out perfectly. Not being able to predict that in advance, I decided to make sweet and sour onions. In the past, I’ve cooked them sweetly with chicken stock and balsamic vinegar, but now, with the need for tang (not to mention the presence of vegetarians), I switched things up a bit. Here, they’re braised in olive oil and finished with red wine vinegar and sugar.
For years, I was buying small flat disk-like cipollini onions from a rickety farm stand up the road, run by an elderly women of Eastern European descent. She could be counted on for all kinds of produce that was not in the mainstream at the time. I fondly remember her kohlrabi and special varieties of peppers. Now the place is boarded up and the town has more tony places to shop. Our local organic grocery is spiffed up too but it’s still down to earth, offering a variety of small organic onions – no larger than an inch in diameter – in bulk. These were surprisingly popular at Thanksgiving dinner, so next year I’ll crank up the volume.
Little onions, including so-called pearl onions and cipollini, are a pain to peel. In the past, I’ve slit the bottoms, dunked them in boiling water and pinched them to release the centers before sautéing them in oil, adding sugar to caramelize them, and deglazing the pan with vinegar and stock. This time, I cooked them with the skins on in simmering water until nearly tender, cooled them slightly and stripped the skin off, before braising and glazing them in olive oil, red wine vinegar and sugar, tempered by the adding of a bay leaf. This was much less time-consuming than my previous peeling method.
Little Sweet and Sour Onions
1 lb small onions, one color or a mix
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Trim the tops and bottoms of the onions and rinse off any grit. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the onions. Reduce the heat to allow the liquid to simmer and cook until the onions can just be pierced with a turkey trusser. Remove the onions to a platter (dunk them in cold water if they’ve cooked until crisp tender or beyond). Remove the skins and set the onions aside until you are ready to complete the dish.
Warm the olive oil over medium high heat in a sauté pan large enough to hold the onions in one layer. Add the bay leaf and cook for a minute. Add the onions and stir to coat. Add the sugar and continue stirring until the onions start to color. Add the vinegar to deglaze the pan, and pour the contents into a serving dish, removing the bay leaf. This dish can be made days in advance and reheated.