8 Onion Cooking Hacks Every Beginner Should Know

Onions are a cornerstone of Indian cuisine, adding depth, flavour, and aroma to a wide variety of dishes. From the rich gravies of North India to the spiced curries of the South, onions play a vital role in creating the base of many recipes. Whether you're preparing a simple dal or an elaborate biryani, understanding how to use onions effectively can elevate your cooking to new heights. 

In Indian cooking, onions are used in various forms—raw, sautéed, caramelised, and fried. Each form brings a unique flavour profile and texture to the dish. Raw onions add a sharp bite to salads and chutneys, while sautéed onions provide a sweet and savoury base for gravies. Caramelised onions contribute a deep, rich sweetness, and crispy fried onions offer a delightful crunch. 

Mastering the use of onions can be a game-changer for home cooks. The following tips and tricks will help you unlock the full potential of onions in your Indian cooking, ensuring your dishes are always flavourful and perfectly balanced.  

Tips and Tricks 

Choosing the Right Onion 

Different onions serve different purposes in Indian cooking. Red onions are commonly used for their mild sweetness and are ideal for salads, raitas, and raw applications. White onions have a sharper flavour, perfect for making pickles and adding to spicy dishes. Yellow onions are great for sautéing and caramelising due to their balanced sweetness and acidity. 

Slicing Techniques

The way you slice onions can significantly impact your dish. Thin slices or finely chopped onions cook quickly and blend seamlessly into gravies, while thicker slices are better for dishes that require a longer cooking time. For stir-fries and biryanis, consider slicing onions into uniform rings to ensure even cooking. 

Reducing Bitterness

Sometimes, onions can be bitter, especially when used raw. To reduce bitterness, soak sliced onions in cold water for about 10-15 minutes. This simple step helps mellow out the sharpness, making the onions more palatable for salads and garnishes. 

Cooking Onions to Perfection

The key to perfect onions in Indian dishes is patience. When sautéing, cook onions over medium heat until they turn golden brown. This process can take time but is crucial for developing a rich, sweet flavour that forms the base of many Indian curries and gravies. 

Caramelising Onions

For a deep, sweet flavour, caramelise onions slowly over low heat. Stir frequently to prevent burning, and cook until they turn a deep brown colour. Caramelised onions can enhance the taste of dishes like korma, rogan josh, and even vegetarian curries. 

Using Fried Onions 

Crispy fried onions are a popular garnish in Indian cuisine, adding texture and flavour to dishes like biryani, pulao, and kebabs. To make perfect fried onions, slice them thinly, coat lightly with flour or cornstarch, and fry in hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil. 

Balancing Flavours

Onions can balance the heat and acidity in dishes. If a curry or gravy is too spicy, adding sautéed onions can help mellow the heat. Conversely, a touch of raw onion can add a fresh crunch and slight sweetness to balance overly acidic flavours. 

Storing Onions 

Proper storage is essential to keep onions fresh. Store them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated place. Avoid storing onions near potatoes, as they release moisture and gases that can cause onions to spoil faster.