Giving onions the chop

Last Updated: Sat, Jul 12, 2014 11:08 hrs

If you look beyond the north Indian cuisine to regional fare, you will find a lot of recipes that don’t use onions, says Nitin Mathur Chef at Taj Krishna, Hyderabad
An Indian meal without onions is akin to a song without lyrics. Almost instinctively, almost all Indian cooking begins with chopped onion slices sizzling in hot oil. Be it fried, browned or boiled, onion adds soul into any dish. Whether it is the tadkewali dal, crisp pakoras, velvety chicken curry, spicy sambhar or creamy rajma, each relies on the onion for texture, colour and body. Onions and tears are also closely related, for who hasn’t shed a few tears when handling the pungent bulb in the kitchen? And now with the country bracing for a shortage of the onion (and the equally humble potato) and consequently a huge premium on its price, there are more tears to shed. But, worry not. Chefs from across the country have given us recipes that don’t include onions as an ingredient.


Ishant Khanna
Chef, Threesixty degrees, The Oberoi, New Delhi

“In our kitchen, we get through nearly 100 kg of onions daily. It forms such a significant part of our cuisine because it adds body to the dish. It is neutral in taste and acts as a thickening agent, especially in north Indian cuisine. Even though in our restaurant we do not compromise on any recipe or use any substitute, readers at home can substitute onions with cream or cashewnut paste. In the eastern part of the country, onion is replaced by khus paste.”

Substitute for onions: Dairy cream and cashew paste

1 small potato, boiled and mashed
Half cup paneer
1 finely chopped green chillies
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
¾ tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp dates, finely chopped
2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
¾ tsp corn flour
Salt as needed
Oil for frying

For the sauce:
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
3 tomatoes
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
¾ tsp red chilli powder
Salt as needed
¼ cup dairy cream
50 gms cashew paste along with water
1 tbsp ghee
¾ tsp shahi jeera
2 gms green cardamom powder

For the koftas: In a bowl, mix together grated paneer, mashed potatoes, finely chopped green chillies, coriander powder, chilli powder, cumin powder, chopped coriander leaves, chopped dates, corn flour and salt. Mix well. Divide the  mixture equally and make balls. Heat oil and fry the koftas in batches in medium heat till golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel.

For the sauce: Heat a tablespoon of oil and add the ginger-garlic paste. Saute for a few minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, coriander powder and cumin powder. Cook till the tomatoes turn mushy. If the mixture is too dry, add one or two tablespoonful of water. Add salt as required and allow it to cool. Blend into a fine paste. Now heat ghee in a pan, add the shahi jeera. When it splutters add the ground paste and cook for a few minutes. Add one cup of water, cream, cashew paste and bring it to a boil on low flame. Add the koftas gently to the gravy and bring to a boil again. Add the green cardamom powder at the end.

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