By Chef Nancy Berkoff
Remember those very retro canned, French- fried onions that seem to pop up in markets during winter holidays?
We can’t claim that they are “health food,” by any means…but, used sparingly, they can add verve, taste, and texture to menu items. Brands may vary, but they generally seem to be about forty five calories for two Tablespoons, about the same as peanut butter. In our area, French’s, Trader Joe’s, Durkees, and several store brands were vegan. As always, read the label.
Rather than BLTs (vegan bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches), we create OLTTs. We toasted our bread, thinly sliced extra firm tofu (smoked or teriyaki-flavored tofu would work as well) and tomatoes, and created a sandwich with a layer of tofu, sliced tomato, crispy lettuce, along with a sprinkle of canned onions—it worked! The canned onions, used sparingly, of course, enlivened grilled Portobello sandwiches, bagels and vegan cream cheese, and… peanut butter, sliced banana, and jam sandwiches.
Chili spaghetti is a cold-weather, quick- to-put-together dinner. We tossed leftover spaghetti (any cooked pasta will do) with left-over chili, topped with canned onions and then baked until bubbly. If it’s a real “rush,” this can be done in individual portions in the microwave. Leftover cooked greens can be shredded, mixed with cooked pasta, nutritional yeast, and canned onions for a hearty entrée, as well. Canned onions add crunch and taste to tacos. Make a version of Egyptian “kasheri” (see the recipe in this previous Vegetarian Journal article: https://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2018issue3/2018_issue3_vegan_egypt.php), combining lentils with macaroni and topped with canned onions.
If you’d like to jazz up bread stuffing to use with mushrooms, peppers, or tomatoes, add your new “secret” ingredient, both mixed in the stuffing and a little sprinkle on top. If you have time for a slow soup, simmer freshly sliced onions (lots and lots of them) in mushroom broth, add canned onions, and you’ll have a French (fried) onion soup. If you have less time, make a fast lentil soup with canned lentils, canned chopped tomatoes, and canned onions for flavoring.
Of course, there’s the infamous green bean-mushroom-onion casserole, which can be made with vegan mushroom soup, fresh or frozen green beans, and canned onions. Actually, vegan sour cream, canned, drained, sliced mushrooms (or sautéed, fresh), and nutritional yeast can be used rather than the mushroom soup. Along with canned onions, most vegetables or vegetable combinations do well as this type of casserole, either as an entrée, such as potato, carrot, cauliflower or sweet potato and kale combinations, or as a side dish, such as with spinach, peas, or spaghetti squash.