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The Genius No-Dairy Trick for Turning Vegetables Into Cream

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Every week—often with your help—Food52's Executive Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A brighter (and vegan) alternative to cream—for all your soups, sauces, and sides.

Even if you love cream; even if you love it so much that you plunk it into gratins and soups in long, loose-wristed pours; even if you are a person who makes luxe frittatas like this one, which calls for an entire quart of heavy cream—even you are about to fall for this low-fat, vegan cream alternative. Dieters and vegans, you'll like it too.

That's because this "cream," dreamed up by Grant Lee Crilly (the cofounder of ChefSteps, a James Beard Award-winning offshoot of the Modernist Cuisine world), is made out of little more than roasted onions, puréed until they puff up into a glossy cream-like substance. There's some lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to season it, but otherwise the backbone of sautéed onion—the start to so many good things—carries the whole operation. "This is pretty frickin genius," Food52er mrslarkin said when she sent it to me. "And now I want a bowl of onion purée." 


It's not exactly a cream substitute—you'd never mistake one for the other. But it might be an even better alternative. Because as much as some of us love cream for adding richness and body, it can wash out all other nearby flavors (we've seen this before, in the classic last-minute soup-correcting problem). 

Onion purée is brighter and better, as promised—instead of obscuring flavors, it enhances them, like a well-made stock (or mirepoix or soffrito). Onion purée won't pile on existing ingredients like a layer of spackle; instead, it acts like a veneer, a multiplier. It does wonders for filling out thickness and general oomph too, in a way that cream has been known to do.

ChefSteps, naturally, uses a Vitamix to get pro-level silkiness, but you can employ whatever blender you have—if you want it to be perfectly smooth, just pass it through a fine-mesh strainer after blending.

Beyond showing it off in soups, Crilly wrote to me, "You can add swap it in for cream in your risotto, add to pasta with fresh herbs for a healthier, brighter, but still decadent-tasting dish, whip it into your mashed potatoes, or use it in a quiche to lighten up the base." Or, call mrslarkin's bluff and eat a straight bowl of it. (Try doing that with cream.)

ChefSteps' Onion Cream

Adapted slightly from ChefSteps.com

3 large onions (sweet or regular)
Vegetable oil
Salt, to taste
Lemon juice, to taste
Olive oil, to taste

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52er mrslarkin for this one!

The Genius Recipes cookbook is finally here! The book is a mix of greatest hits from the column and unpublished new favorites—all told, over 100 recipes that will change the way you think about cooking. It's on shelves now, or you can order your copy here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Onion, Vegetarian, Vegan, Long Reads, Editors' Picks, Genius Recipes, Genius