There are a few recipes that I associate with special occasions and creamed onions are at the top of that list. Fortunately, I’ve created a delicious plant-based version that is so easy and delicious it can make any meal special.
Babies and creamers and buttons, oh my!
It all starts with pearl onions. They are those tiny, round onions, about 1 inch or less in diameter. You might also know them as baby onions, buttons or creamers. Although they don’t come in a specific variety, they are usually white. They are different from shallots which usually have a brown or red skin and are more of an oval. It might be possible to use shallots as a substitute, but if you can get pearl onions, I highly recommend it. There is just something wonderful about their sweet and not-so-'oniony' flavor.
I used fresh pearl onions for this recipe as that is what I have available in our stores in The Hague. This makes sense given that The Netherlands is one of the main producers of these mellow, slightly sweet little onions When I lived in the US, I always found them frozen and conveniently peeled. If you use frozen, you can skip the boiling part of this recipe and run straight to simmering them in vegetable broth for about 15-20 minutes until they are tender.
No peeling required
Creamed onions are one of my favorite holiday recipes from childhood. Full disclosure, when I first decided to make them on my own, I peeled every onion before boiling them. I did that just once before realizing that indeed, there was a better way.
Par-boil (3-minute boil and cool down)
The trick for those onions, is to cut off the ends and par-boil them, a fancy way of saying to boil them for 3 minutes. After that, run them over some cold water to stop the cooking process. Once they’ve cooled down, you just pop the skins off. This eliminates a lengthy and painful process of peeling little onions, straining eyes, tiny onion skins sprawled everywhere, and placing band-aids over all the little nicks incurred along the way. It's now a 5 minute process.
Secret (and easy) sauce
Turns out that my plant-based version of creamed onions was even better than the less healthy originals. I attribute this to the sauce and yes, it’s an easy one. Most of it happens right in the blender. You’ll either want to soak your cashews for several hours or take advantage of a great idea my friend, Alison over at Keeping the Peas uses when making her Alfredo sauce. This is a simple method - grind up that cup of raw cashews in a spice or coffee grinder using about ¼ cup at a time until you have a fine powder. This has properly ended my forgetting to soak the cashews dilemma. Thanks Alison!
And a pinch
I added just a pinch of grated nutmeg to the sauce for just a smidgen of sweet-nutty flavor. Nutmeg always reminds of cooler weather, although I use it year around. It could be that childhood memory thing again, but I’m not overthinking a great sauce. I’m more interested in eating it.
Dressed for dinner
You can honestly just add the sauce to the onions and serve up ‘undressed’ creamed onions, but this is a special recipe. That means giving it a dress up before dinner. I like adding breadcrumbs and chopped chives and then putting it in the oven for a few minutes. Just enough to let get bubbly and toasty.
I also highly recommend hemp seed Parmesan to add a bit more formality to your dressed up onions. It's a great and easy addition. Learn to make that here.
Clean plates? Definitely.
I went for the ultimate in creamy, ‘lots of sauce’ for this one. There really isn’t enough sauce for this one (at least in my book). Serve it up with a bit of bread and I’ll guarantee the plates will come back clean. Even if you are an onion skeptic, this sauce is perfect for making creamed peas or dolloping it over steamed broccoli or your other favorite veggies.
Healthier than the original
Coming up with a healthier version of creamed onions was honestly, a labor of love. I’ve steadily increased my repertoire of plant-based cooking skills and resulting recipes, so that part didn’t intimidate me. But I've found that, recreating a recipe from the past can be intimidating because there’s something more than just the flavor at stake. There’s that nagging ‘will it be as good as’ or ‘the way I remembered’.
And better than I remembered
Turns out, there was no need for concern with this one. One taste and I honestly couldn’t remember exactly how my Mom’s creamed onions tasted. I remember there was butter and cream, a few breadcrumbs on top, but what else? The details of that old recipe left me as I’ve turned toward something different that fits my kitchen today. In truth, it’s the memories of special meals and the occasions that prompts them that’s most important.
When we think of memories it usually surrounds an ‘event’, something worth remember (positively or negatively). But we have multiple opportunities every day to create memories. They don’t require a celebration, a holiday or even a special recipe – it’s a particular moment in time that we believe is worth tucking away. When I made creamed onions the second time, it was memory that shouted (loudly) ‘don’t peel the onions first!’
I get it. We don’t have the capacity to remember everything. It might be stored in our brain but unjumbling it and putting it into context can be a challenge. I used to think it would be so cool to have one of those memory Pensieves like Dumbledore used in Harry Potter but on second thought, I’ve it’s ok not to remember everything or even to employ a bit of selective memory when it’s more convenient. Hold on to the good ones, print off the recipe, write a note, if you get a good helping of creamed onions in the end what’s the harm? Peace.Print
creamed onions: my plant-based version
Creamed onions – my healthy plant-based version is a decadent side dish with sweet pearl onions, a rich, creamy cashew sauce and toasty breadcrumbs with chives.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 4-6 side servings 1x
- Category: On the Side
- Cuisine: American
- 3 cups pearl onions
- 2 cups vegetable stock (or use 2 cups water and 1 veggie stock cube)
- 1 cup raw cashews or 1 cup cashews ground in a spice grinder
- 1 cup plant milk, (I used oat milk because it’s a bit creamier, but any plant milk will do)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp. minced chives (1 tbsp. for the sauce plus the rest for garnish)
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ½ tsp. paprika (optional)
- Fill a large pot with water and let it start to boil while you cut the stems off each of the onions.
- When the water is boiling, add the onions and keep them at a boil for 3 minutes. Immediately drain them and run cold water over them or transfer them into a bowl filled with ice water.
- Wash that pot out – we’ll use it again.
- Once the onions are cool enough to handle, take each onion, trim the tips off using kitchen shears and squeeze to pop off the skins.
- Using your same saucepan, add 2 cups of vegetable broth and the peeled onions. Bring to a boil and then to a simmer. Cover and simmer the onions for 15-20 minutes until most of the broth is absorbed and the onions are very tender. It’ ok to leave a bit of broth in the bottom of the pan (up to ½ inch is fine). This will help the sauce to thin out a bit.
- While the onions are simmering, make the sauce by adding the cashews, 1 cup plant milk. 1 tsp. lemon juice and ½ tsp. salt to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
- Preheat the oven to 4250 F (2200 C).
- When the onions are done simmering, add the sauce and 1 tbsp. chopped chives, plus ½ tsp. ground black pepper and ¼ tsp. nutmeg (or a few grates of whole nutmeg) to the pan and mix well.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Transfer the onions to a small baking dish (mine was 10 ½ x 7 inches). Top with the rest of the chives, ½ cup breadcrumbs and ½ tsp. paprika if using.
- Place the onions, uncovered in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until it starts to bubble a bit and the breadcrumbs are toasted.
- Cooking times account for making the sauce while the onions are simmering.
- As noted above, grinding the raw cashews will cut down your prep time and the need for a high speed blender.
- If you reheat the onions (like there'll be any left), cover them in foil and reheat in the oven.
Keywords: creamed onions