The Genius No-Dairy Trick for Turning Vegetables Into Cream

April 29, 2015

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.

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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

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

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The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.

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Michi September 19, 2018
This could be done in my Thermomix too! Off to give it a go!
Amazonwannabe October 16, 2017
This looks fabulous! I'm wanting a cream sub to go in a crockpot curry, not just to pour in at the end. Would the onion cream work for slow cooker dish?
Heather S. July 4, 2015
I used this concept for an alfredo sauce for a vegan pasta - blended with brewer's yeast and tofu - really good, amazingly.
Bec June 14, 2015
I love this idea! Nice to see an alternative that doesn't involve nut milks or coconut cream - which I love but changes the flavour of soups.
thirteenJ June 6, 2015
Can't tell you how happy I am to see this! I am allergic to tree nuts and it's sooo frustrating that most "cream" subs involve almonds or cashews.
veredmom June 5, 2015
Has anyone tried freezing this yet?
thirdfloorkitchen May 31, 2015
I'm ready to take my onions out of the oven in about 10 minutes. The aroma of those burnished beauties is amazing!
inabech May 17, 2015
Sounds great. Do you think that this recipe could be frozen successfully? If so, one could freeze in a cube tray and use as necessary. :-)
Auburn M. May 17, 2015
Zackly what I was thinking. I'm going to have to test that idea very soon.
Stephanie May 11, 2015
Jenny B. May 4, 2015
Can't wait to try this! But please, tell us what is that gloriously lovely green soup?
Robin May 5, 2015
That I don't know, I haven't read that one yet
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 5, 2015
The soup was a variation on this!
Robin May 3, 2015
Omg! I love this site!!! The funny thing is , is how I learned about it! I had a question about a measurement. I had figured it out , however, you're the only one that answered my question! Ever since, I have seen amazing, yet , simple recipes that I can actually do myself! I usually don't have to go buy some different things that I would normally not have in my kitchen! I love it! Now, I don't mind the question "what is for dinner " ! Thank you so much!
Sharon May 3, 2015
Okay, now you've got my attention. THIS I gotta see! This is a perfect kitchen project for a lazy Sunday like today. I'm on it! Get back to you later with the results.
jennifer May 2, 2015
Lucas May 2, 2015
Gal April 29, 2015
Walla Walla and Vidalia are the most common kinds of sweet onions.
Vojta April 29, 2015
ChefSteps April 29, 2015
Vojta May 1, 2015
jennifer April 29, 2015
Sounds great - can't wait to try it! But what's a sweet onion, besides Cippolini?
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 1, 2015
Vidalia onions are a common kind of sweet onions, but I've also made this with regular yellow onions successfully!