How to make healthy choices every day

Caramelized Onion White Lentil Hummus

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If there is one trick I’ve learned in all of my years cooking, both at home and in restaurants, it is this: caramelized onions can make almost anything taste amazing. They’re the ridiculously simple, yet magical ingredient that turns an ordinary dish into something so rich-tasting and satisfying that people go …oh hi excuse me, this is incredible.

I think the simple reason that caramelized onions taste so good, is because they are a labour of love. Not like an all-day stirring the pot kinda deal, but most definitely a food that you can’t just leave on the stove and dive into an Instagram vortex. No. Caramelized onions take care and attention, at least for the better part of half an hour, and the results are so worth it I bet you’ll catch yourself multi-tasking at the stove tonight just to have some on hand to gussy up your omelet this weekend (boss move there, by the way).

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The more accurate reason that caramelized onions taste so good however, isn’t technically caramelization – it’s called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a browning reaction similar to caramelization, but with one distinct difference: caramelization is a chemical reaction between reducing sugars, while Maillard is a chemical reaction between reducing sugars and amino acids (proteins). And yes, there is enough protein in an onion to elicit this response – how thrilling for us! Although the Maillard reaction is very complex and complicated, what we do know is that it requires heat to transform and rearrange sugars and amino acids to create new and fantastic flavour molecules in and on your food, making it even more delicious. If you’ve ever eaten a golden slice of toast, enjoyed a rich cup of coffee, or nibbled on a grilled vegetable, you’ve experienced the pure pleasure that all of this this chemical commotion is responsible for. Science!

Harnessing the power of the Maillard reaction can make you a better cook, because things that are browned properly taste more intensely, more complex, and well, better. Without even being aware of it, it’s the reason you’ll reach for the roasted veggies with the crispiest edges, or the reason that you prefer a fried egg over a boiled one (no judgement!). There are a couple ways of making this spectacular series of chemical reactions work for you, and the first is high heat. Maillard will not occur at very low temperatures, especially in situations where the food is not in direct contact with the heat, like it is on a skillet or grill for instance. When you’re roasting veggies, make sure the oven is at least 400°F / 200°C. When you’re making pizza, you can crank it up even higher, to get those beautifully blistered crust edges that make your mouth water.

The second way is to keep the food you’re cooking on the dry side. For instance, have you ever noticed how if you wash mushrooms (which you should actually never do), they’ll never really get brown and crusty? Too much moisture! Instead, brush those fungi gently to remove any dirt or debris, then put them in a screeching hot pan with some ghee and don’t stir them. I talk more about this technique here. This is the same reason you need a large pan for these caramelized onions, since they’ll need the space to allow the water to evaporate around them. If the onions are too close together, they’ll only steam each other. Eew. If you’re oven roasting vegetables for dinner, cut them in the morning and leave them out all day uncovered so that the surface water will evaporate, and the veggies will brown more easily. Yes, this seems like a bit of a hassle, but the culinary nerd in me admits that it’s cool because it works.

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So, where does the hummus come into this story? Well, hummus is pretty much a food group in my world. I’ve made so many variations with so many kinds of legumes, spices, alt seed butters, toppings, and stir-ins, that I could hardly believe I had never tried it with the ingredient that could single-handedly save humanity: caramelized onions. I knew that deep richness of the onions would meld perfectly with the creamy dip, and make the flavour even better. I wasn’t wrong! The only thing that I wanted to improve upon, was the protein content – not because I’m obsessed with protein, but simply because I thought it could be higher. To do that I simply swapped out the traditional chickpeas for white lentils, or urad dal. We not only get more protein from this change-up, but almost double the fiber, with less sodium, less fat, and less sugar. Sweet.

This dip is the perfect, rich compliment to all the crisp and light, early summer veggies popping up. I went to my friend’s farm and picked some seriously beautiful radishes and young carrots, which paired so well with the caramelized onion flavour. I also had some Life-Changing Crackers on hand, which always make dipping more delicious. One thing I changed from the first version to the third, was the onions on top. Instead of blending all of them into the dip, I used about a third of them on top, which allows you to scoop a few tender morsels up with each bite. This delivers even more caramelized onion flavour and texture, which, let us be reminded, is the whole point of this exercise.

Even though this hummus keeps well for at least five days in the fridge (you can even freeze it!), it is best eaten freshly made at room temperature, since the flavour is at its peak then.

And because you’re wondering, you can find white or ivory lentils at Indian grocers, Middle Eastern markets, or some natural food stores. They are the skinned and split version of urad dal, which is black, so make sure you buy the huskless version! If you can’t find them at all, simply use chickpeas – it will be just as delicious.

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If it’s your first time caramelizing onions and you’re feeling intimidated, here is a stellar step-by-step tutorial from Bon Appétit. It varies ever so slightly from my method, but you’ll get the picture!

Big love and happy hummus,
Sarah B.

Show me your hummus on Instagram: #mnrcaramelizedonionhummus

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Hello dear friends!

There are only a few spots left for our January 2019 Wild Heart High Spirit retreat and we’d love to see you in Bali! 

Join us along with 15 other women to unwind, reconnect, and find the inspiration to ignite you on your health journey. Our thoughtfully-designed program will awaken and nourish your entire being – body, mind, and spirit! This is a true celebration of life, and we get to do it together in paradise! Come see what all the magic is about. 

Much love,
Sarah B, Mikkala and the Golden Circle Retreats team



28 thoughts on “Caramelized Onion White Lentil Hummus”

  • Sounds great. I make a similar recipe with White Beans, with some rosemary and lots of lemon, like yours and all who taste it love it. will try yours once we get white lentils here in Israel. thanks

  • Hi Sarah,
    I have just read through all your recipes and your blog and would like to try everything immediately, because everything looks so appealing and sounds delicious 🙂
    I have a question for you, because I would like to buy myself a food processor for quite a while now, which is needed for many of your recipes as well: would you tell me which model you use and with which you had good experiences?
    Thank you very much and greetings from Hamburg
    Frauke

  • This is the first time I heard about the Maillard reaction, it is interesting, especially when I can use it in cooking. This post really give me a lot information. Thanks a lot.

  • I think the simple reason that caramelized onions taste so great, is on the grounds that they are a work of adoration. Not like a throughout the day stirring the pot kind of arrangement however most definitely a food that you can’t simply leave on the stove and dive into an Instagram vortex.

  • I love this recipes, though I’ve not tried it before. But of course this weekend I will definitely try it out.
    Am really inspired, this is a good recipes and I hope you don’t mind if I can share it with my audience.
    I look forward to your kind response.
    Great post indeed.
    Regards
    Louis

  • I use a little plug-in burner to caramelize my red onions. They always came out sweet and delicious after about an hour. But now I have a gas stove and they won’t come out right. They look caramelized in less time, but they aren’t sweet.

  • I enjoy both of your cook books regularly and have some recipes memorized, even! I would love your app as well but alas, I am not an Apple user. Strictly Android. Is there any hope of your app being available in the Google Play store??

    Long-time reader
    Priscilla

  • Thanks Sarah, Onion is a prebiotic which is good, but very bad for anyone sensitive to fructose, so care needs to be taken if bloating occurs. Doesn’t the Maillard reaction produce acrylamide?

  • Dear Sarah
    Yum! This sounds delicious – I’m off out to buy lentils this afternoon :=)
    Do you use/prefer white or dark tahini?

    Thank you!
    Warmest wishes, Jayne

  • Eureka! I shall stop rinsing my mushrooms! (Thank you!) Plus, more importantly, you have inspired me to re-attempt caramelisation. This will not only give me a delish hummus recipe for my next get together but fantastic erudite phrases to go along with it… “Did you know that the reason we live caramelised onions so much because of the Maillard reaction?” Oui!

  • Thanks Sarah, Onion is a prebiotic which is good, but very bad for anyone sensitive to fructose, so care needs to be taken if bloating occurs. Doesn’t the Maillard reaction produce acrylamide?

  • This looks divine, Sarah. I can’t wait to make it. Please tell me- did you make those seeded crackers also?

    • Hi Allison,

      Wow – thanks so much for the lovely comment 😀 You made my day! I hope you enjoy the recipe too. Gros bisous!

      xo, Sarah B

  • What a beautiful post! I love making hummus with different legumes too … a white lentil version sounds delicious. Also, I’m so with you on your love for caramelised onions.. one of the tastiest things ever x

    • Hey Gabby,

      Haha…glad to hear you get my obsession 😉 They are the BEST!!! I hope you enjoy the recipe.

      Big smiles,
      Sarah B

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