whole food ~ well made

Caramelized onions

5 Hot Tips for Really Caramelized Onions

Have you ever looked inside a friend’s fridge? I mean a good, hard look?

There are some intimate objects inside that cold insulated box. There are secrets and intimacies and vices.

I think that a psychological profile could be worked up by analyzing the contents of anyone’s refrigerator…but you can also learn something, too.

At my friend Mary B.’s house the other evening, I opened the fridge to store the bottle of pinot gris a few of us were drinking pre-hot tub. I was struck by her entire shelf of pickles and preserves, sauces and otherwise jarred products–most of them homemade, I might add.

A  Surprising Summer staple

As we roll into summer, it seems a good time to analyze the contents of our our refrigerators, to bulk up on the staples that will ease our dinnertime worries and adorn our appetizer plates, sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas and more.

Caramelized onions are one of those staples for me. Since they take up to 1 hour to cook down to a silken, syrupy tangle, I make them in bulk.

The long, slow cooking reduces the water and concentrates the onions’ natural sweetness, so you never need to add sugar!

Many people have trouble getting their onions dark enough, which is when the sugars break down enough to achieve that gorgeous deep caramel color and the marching band of flavors.

Caramelized onions

Part of that has to do with patience. Or maybe, as this writer asserts {worth the read}, recipe writers lie about how long it really takes to caramelize onions.

How to Caramelize Onions

Here are my 5 tips for making fully caramelized onions:

  1. Choose a heavy bottomed pan (to prevent scorching) at least 12 inches wide with low sides to allow the moisture to evaporate readily.
  2. Start with the pan on medium-high and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Then as the onions turn translucent and are tinged with color, reduce it to medium; when the onions are limp and just beginning to brown, turn the heat to low.
  3. Resist the urge to stir the onions so that those in contact with the pan’s surface have a chance to brown completely.
  4. Use a wooden spoon to scrape all the hardening brown bits from the bottom of the pan (note the pan edges in the photo) during the final stage of caramelizing to stir them back into the onions.
  5. Find something to occupy yourself with for about 1 hour so that you can be nearby for periodic stirring and scraping until your onions look like you mixed them with molasses.

Burger with caramelized onions

Once they’re cool, store them covered in the refrigerator for 1 week surrounded by the artichokes, olives, roasted red peppers, peperoncini…

Yes, they are incredible on burgers, but there are so many more places you can insert a batch of caramelized onions.

Here is a summer recipe for combining them with whole grains and veggies for a quick supper.


and become a forager

Chickpeas, Tomatoes and Bulgur with Caramelized Onions

Inspired by Claudia Roden's caramelized onion recipes in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, this recipe serves as a model for incorporating your pre-cooked onions with grains and spices. For the bulgur, substitute an equal amount of cooked brown rice, wheat berries or couscous. I like it best at room temperature.

Course Salad
Cuisine Middle Eastern
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne


  • 1 1/2 cups bulgur
  • 1 cup caramelized onions
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas or 1 (14-ounce) can garbanzo beans
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • dukkah, optional


  1. Bring a teakettle of water to a boil. Put the bulgur in a mixing bowl and cover it with boiling water for 20-30 minutes. Drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as possible. Wipe out the bowl and put the bulgur back in the bowl.
  2. Add the onions, chickpeas and tomatoes and stir to combine. Toss with the olive oil, red pepper flakes and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Serve in generous portions with additional onions on top and sprinkled with the dukkah, if using, and passing more at the table.

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