Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.
Today: Here's a light, bright, totally and completely vegan alternative to cream. Substitute it in every soup, sauce, side, and creamy-savory dish in your life.
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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 drowns even their kale in cream, which is a true power play, if we've ever heard one—even you are about to fall for this low-fat, vegan cream alternative. Cream avoiders, you'll love it too.
That's because this "cream," dreamed up by Grant Lee Crilly (cofounder of ChefSteps, the James Beard Award-winning offshoot of the Modernist Cuisine world, and purveyor of smart kitchen tools like the joule sous vide machine), is made out of little more than roasted onions, pureed until they swirl together 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 and propels forward 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 puree."
Though this is not exactly a cream substitute—you'd never mistake one for the other—it might be an even better alternative to all things savory and silky. Because as much as some of us love cream for adding richness and body, we've found that it can inadvertently wash out all other nearby flavors (as seen in the classic last-minute soup-correcting problem).
Onion puree 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 as the ultimate multiplier—a deepener of flavor. 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 your puree 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.)
This soup is quick, comforting, and 100% vegan, thanks to another unexpected ingredient (hint: not onion this time!). To make the soup even thicker and creamier, keep the vegan streak alive and introduce a dollop of zingy, velvety onion cream.
By replacing the heavy cream in this dish with 1/2 cup of onion puree (and the couple tablespoons of butter with vegan butter or a mild coconut oil), it becomes entirely plant-based. Miso, soy sauce, and vermouth would work excellently with a sweet-savory onion flavor. A few readers even used the creamed kale as a sauce for pasta—be like these readers, and thin out with additional onion cream as needed.
If the prospect of using cream plus five types of cheese in a single baked pasta makes you a little wary, 1) fear not, as it's delicious, but 2) feel free to use onion cream instead for a lighter (but equally creamy) finished dish. This pasta is so riffable, you can easily add any veg and herbs of your choice, too.
And as for sweet dishes, or baked goods, where you need a hint of cream? You won't want to use your onion puree there, tempting as it may sound. You can, though, leverage one of these seven clever substitutes instead.
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.
I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."