Onion dip does not need to be great to be enjoyable. Good or even mediocre onion dip is still better than a bowl of ranch dressing (and a bowl of ranch dressing isn’t all that bad to begin with). Still, there’s no reason to settle for mediocre or even good if you are mere moments away from greatness. Here are three easy ways you can elevate your onion dip from “good enough” to “truly outstanding.”
Make a better base with labneh
Most onion dip recipes start with sour cream or a mixture of sour cream, mayo, and cream cheese. The latter is particularly creamy, but requires mixing all three ingredients into a smooth, homogenous mixture, which can be slightly challenging, depending on the temperature of your ingredients and kitchen.
Instead of futzing with three different fatty, white substances, swap ‘em out for a single base: Labneh. Labneh is thicker, tangier, and more luscious than sour cream, with cream cheese-like characteristics, and has no need for a cast of supporting characters.
If you’ve never had labneh, you’re in for a treat. It straddles the line between yogurt and cheese, dense and creamy and just sharp enough. You can buy it, or you can make your own by salting and straining whole-fat greek yogurt. (If you strain for long enough, you’ll be able to roll the labneh into mini Mediterranean-style cheeseballs.)
Use more onions
Most dips rely on a single type of onion, maybe two, but there is a whole genre of multi-onion dips out there, and the best are those that contain at least five (5) different types of allium. Each onion brings something a little different to the table. White onion lays down a classic onion-y base, red adds an aggressive note, and I bet you can guess what a sweet onion will do. Shallots add an intensely sweet, garlicky kind of flavor, and leeks bring a light chive-y kind of vibe. The green portion of a scallion makes a great garnish, but you can toss the white part in the pan along with the rest of the onions. (Another type of onion that makes a great garnish? The crunchy fried kind you’d find on top of a casserole.)
In addition to different types of onions—I like getting at least five involved—you should try to get a couple of different preparation styles in there. Caramelized onions bringing a sweet, jammy kind of umami, but you can dehydrate them for a darker, more concentrated flavour (they make a great finishing touch), or bypass the pokey caramelization process and burn them. The more nuanced notes in caramelized onions can get muted by creamy dairy, but burnt onions have a deeply roasted, savoury, slightly bitter flavour that’s a little harder to obfuscate, no matter how much fat you throw at it. If you want a toasty note (and I don’t know why you wouldn’t), just add a teaspoon of onion powder. For freshness, add finely diced scallion.
Never forget: Garlic is an allium too. Get it involved by microplaning half a clove into your dip, sprinkling in onion powder, or smashing the roasted stuff into the base.
Think beyond salt and black pepper
Salting your dip is a forgone conclusion. Without salt, it won’t taste like much at all. Pepper isn’t strictly required, but I think the funky, pungent flavour of white pepper melds into onion dip a little more seamlessly than basic black.
If your dip is lacking umami, the easiest way to fix that is with a shaker (or bag) of MSG. There’s a reason you find it in the ingredients list of store-bought dips and mixes—it tickles those glutamate receptors and makes everything you sprinkle it on taste more savory, meaty, and better. (If you’re worried about the health effects, don’t be; most of those concerns can be traced back to a single racist paper published in 1968.) Just shake it in to taste.
Worcestershire sauce is another umami-laden hero that will instantly improve your onion dip. With funky, salty, fermented anchovies and fruity, tangy tamarind, a few dashes will add a layer of complexity you just can’t get out of onions, no matter how lovingly you caramelize them.
Finally, don’t forget about lemon. As I’ve mentioned previously, lemon makes everything better. Rather than adding citrusy flavor, it simply lightens and enhances without drawing too much attention to itself. Squeeze a wedge over your almost-finished dip, give it a stir, then dip a chip in there. Eat the chip, adjust with any of the above as needed, then devour. You may find yourself tearing through the bowl at a quicker clip, but don’t worry; you can always make more.