I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who will take the time to wash, dry, and chop the wide variety of produce it takes to make a salad, but I’m not. I’m lazy, which is why I’ve recently been on a bagged salad kick. These kits offer an easy way to make sure I actually eat a vegetable once in a while. I’m not so lazy that I don’t riff on them, however, and my favourite tweak at the moment is sprinkling dried caramelised onions all over every salad I eat.
While I would never call these savoury little guys “vegan bacon bits” or something equally silly, I will admit they slip into the bacon bit role with ease. They may not be made of pork, nor taste smoky, but they are salty, savoury, and sweet, with a deep umami with the power to anchor a bowl of chopped kale and cabbage.
Beyond raw vegetables, dehydrated caramelised onions are the perfect finishing touch for pretty much anything. I’ve enjoyed them sprinkled over scrambled eggs, fried directly into egg whites, mixed into mashed potatoes, and scattered over a bowl of lima beans. Mix them into sour cream and they’ll rehydrate to create a lovely little dip. Pulverize them with salt and you’ll have caramelised onion salt (use a ratio of three parts onion and two parts salt).
How to dehydrate caramelised onions
The method for making dehydrated caramelised onions is right there in the name, if slightly out of order: First you caramelize some onions (I do mine on a sheet pan in the oven), then you dehydrate them. If you have a food dehydrator, simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, set your oven as low as it will go. For me, this is 85°C, but 100°C will work just fine. I also used my oven’s convection setting to speed things up.
Spread your caramelised onions in an even layer on a sheet pan lined with a silicone baking mat or piece of parchment paper. Place in your 85°C-ish oven until the onions are dry to the touch and can be crushed and crumbled between your fingers. (Stop too soon, and you will have something that tastes and feels like caramelised onion jerky, which is also good.) I dried my last batch for eight hours in an 85-degree oven, then switched the oven off and let them cool inside for another hour. They were perfect.
Once your onions are dry and crumbly, it’s time to get to crumbling. Sprinkle them on proteins, vegetables, grains, pasta, popcorn, soups, salads, sauces, and anything else that begs for a hit of salty, sweet umami.
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