what to replace onions with?
August 22, 2007 3:10 AM   Subscribe

Onions give me stomach aches. So many recipes start out with fried onions (meats, sauces, soups, stews), and I have a craving for spaghetti tomato sauce. What can I use instead of the onions?
posted by mirileh to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you eat scallions?
posted by creasy boy at 3:19 AM on August 22, 2007

Is garlic ok? Crush 5/6 cloves garlic, simmer with a can of tomatoes (no frying). Add lots of fresh basil, olive oil salt and pepper to taste.
posted by London Irregular at 3:27 AM on August 22, 2007

Use some garlic, if you can eat that.
I don't know what could exactly mimic the flavor of an onion but you could try thinly sliced or finely chopped celery to give some deepening of flavor (albeit a different flavor) and replace the body of the onion in the sauce.
What about onion powder?
Also, mushroom powder can deepen and enhance the flavor of sauces.
posted by bluebird at 3:30 AM on August 22, 2007

This page suggests "white bulbs of leeks OR shallots OR green onions (Cook these for no more than a minute.) OR chopped daikon (salt and rinse first if serving raw) OR garlic OR asafoetida powder (This Indian spice has a strong, pungent flavor and is used as an onion substitute by people who can't eat them for religious reasons.) OR fresh herbs."

Go easy with the asafoetida if you try it: as its name suggests it's has a powerful and none-too-pleasant smell, & should be used very sparingly.

When I make a tomatoey spaghetti sauce I usually start with a soffritto of equal-ish amounts of chopped onion and celery, with a little garlic: maybe you could try the celery & garlic with some combination of the above?
posted by misteraitch at 3:30 AM on August 22, 2007

Chives, maybe?
posted by bluebird at 3:32 AM on August 22, 2007

Recipes that also have garlic, you could sub shallots. Recipes that call for green onions, you could try leeks.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:05 AM on August 22, 2007

All onions? If not, give red onions a try. They're quite different to "regular" onions, sweeter, less acidic, and might be mild enough for you to digest.
posted by wackybrit at 4:11 AM on August 22, 2007

leeks. they do almost exactly the same job IMHO. i generally use 50% leeks and 50% onions when making soups/stews/sauces
posted by ascullion at 4:13 AM on August 22, 2007

Red peppers? Might give a similar body - sweetish, with a bit of a crunch. One of my favourite dishes is *just* a lot of such peppers, and/or yellow ones, fried until very soft with garlic and hot peppers, in good olive oil, mixed up with a pasta like fusilli.
(Even better is to do this with brocolli - which with frying takes on a whole new character)
posted by Flashman at 4:15 AM on August 22, 2007

Leeks are definitely the way to go, I use them far more frequently* than onions and can serve them to my aunt who also can't eat onions.

Also, do all onions have the same effect? It might be worth trying different varieties, especially red.

* then again...
posted by ceri richard at 4:28 AM on August 22, 2007

Shallots? One anchovy and a clove of garlic is a nice base for a tomato sauce. You could also use either diced carrots or celery, both are used in traditional spaghetti bolognese.
posted by fire&wings at 4:30 AM on August 22, 2007

I Nth scallions or leeks.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 5:02 AM on August 22, 2007

No good replacement suggestions, but I have a friend with a similar problem and she finds that she doesn't have problems if she cooks things like tomato sauce with a few large chunks of onion, so the flavoring gets into the sauce, but then just removes the pieces before eating. Might be worth a try if you like the taste.
posted by Stacey at 5:09 AM on August 22, 2007

I've substituted capscicum for onions before, when I've run out of onions, and the results are usually pretty good. Not the same, but good.
posted by flabdablet at 5:25 AM on August 22, 2007

I have a very similar problem with some serious stomach cramping when eating onions. Some are worse than others and raw onions are especially bad. There are lots of types of onions (red, white, yellow, vadalia, etc) so you may want to switch to another type and fry it well to see if it makes a difference.
posted by JJ86 at 5:47 AM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: thanks for the ideas!

i'm going to start with the non-onion ones and try to work up my courage to test out the onion-family suggestions.
posted by mirileh at 6:32 AM on August 22, 2007

I feel your pain. I'm 3 months pregnant and suddenly find myself unable to digest onions.

My mom uses onion soup mix in almost all of her cooking. I don't know if it would irritate your stomach or not. Last night I made spaghetti sauce and used vegetable bouillon to round out the flavor. It was better than nothing!
posted by wallaby at 7:07 AM on August 22, 2007

Most of these suggestions -- scallions, garlic, leeks -- are similar to onions, but maybe they'd be milder. I would try something else first.

When onions are cooked, they become sweet. That's the flavor you might be missing; I'd try adding a little wine, or even sugar, to compensate.

Another thing that helps me is making sure the onions are really, really cooked, almost to the point of burning. This seems to break down the structure of the onion so that it's not so bad.

Finally, though - if you want spaghetti tomato sauce, you can just make a recipe without onions. I've not put onions in my pasta sauce for years (yes, I feel your pain), and it's fine. Some things I do add for flavor: a tiny dash of sherry vinegar, and again, maybe just a dash of white wine.
posted by amtho at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2007

I've got a few thoughts on this question.

Option 1: just leave out the onions. For a long time, I didn't like onions at all, so I just made my tomato sauce without 'em. It still tasted fine. Tomato sauce is extremely, extremely forgiving -- don't worry too much about a recipe.

Option 2: make a meat sauce. If you use meat in your sauce, it will add depth of flavor. Just brown some meat well in the pan you plan to use (lamb chop, prosciutto, pork something) and then make your sauce on top of it. Add a little red or white wine for sweetness.

Option 3: caramelize your vegetables. If you don't want meat, you can try roasting your veggies to caramelize them and get a little more depth of flavor. Pre-heat your oven to about 350 or 375. In an oiled roasting pan, place:

- whole tomatos (cored, stem side down)
- halved bell peppers (red or yellow are best)
- carrots (peeled and cut roughly into large chunks)
- celery (cut into pieces about the same size as the carrot pieces)
- (optional) 1 small jalapeno pepper
- (optional) about 10 garlic cloves, peeled
- (optional) 4-5 shallots, peeled and cut in half
- (optional) 1-2 leeks, washed well and cut into 1/2-inch slices

You can roast all or any of these veggies, in any proportion you like. Pour a little olive oil on top, then roast for 30-45 minutes, until everything starts to get soft and caramelized at the edges (dark brown is good). When finished, put it all in a food processor with some fresh herbs (basil, etc), salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like.

Option 4: try roasting your onion-family ingredients. Often, I will just roast some peeled shallots/garlic -- in a small dish, liberally coated with olive oil, until they get very soft and caramelized -- and add it to the sauce that I've prepared on the stovetop. Roasting seems to take away the oniony flavors -- maybe it would also help with the stomach aches?
posted by ourobouros at 7:54 AM on August 22, 2007

Onions add sweetness, complexity of flavors, and nice onion flavor. Shredded carrots are pretty good in tomato sauce and would add sweetness and complexity, as would red wine. Summer squash would be slightly less non-traditional. I just brown up a mix of sweet & hot Italian sausage, add red wine, and a jar of good quality prepared pasta sauce; simmer at least 45 minutes.
posted by theora55 at 8:13 AM on August 22, 2007

If you are looking to approximate the sweetness, body , and carmelization, i would try carrots. It is obviously a different flavor, but will contribute much of the same characteristics to your dish.
posted by battlecj at 8:31 AM on August 22, 2007

If you can eat garlic, use that. To make up for the texture, try fennel bulb. The taste is very mild and it has the same consistency as onions, when sauteed. I made a rice pilaf that used fennel bulb and I'd never had it before then - it's lovely.
posted by SassHat at 9:27 AM on August 22, 2007

New favourite tomato pasta sauce recipe, sans onion.
posted by rhoticity at 3:17 PM on August 22, 2007

small amounts of nicely chopped chives work well for me, and my stomach problem sounds similar.

I actually do cook with onions, but I eat around them or strain them out. That seems to work well.
posted by melissam at 4:31 PM on August 23, 2007

No experience with this particular problem, but you might try soaking the onions (chopped or sliced) in cold water for an hour. This is typically done for onions in to be eaten raw in salads, and it makes them very crunchy and mild.
posted by Caviar at 5:25 PM on August 25, 2007

Also try sauteing mushrooms instead.
posted by exceptinsects at 1:34 PM on September 6, 2007

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