Real, Not-from-a-Mix French Onion Dip

“Should I make the white bean dip I made up that time?” I asked Wayne as I paused on a photo of some kind of festive dip in the glossy soft covered cookbook across my lap. I expected him  to say, Sure, why not?

Instead he said, “Isn’t that too easy?”

“What?” I said, the appetizer cookbook falling off my lap in surprise and chagrin. Homemade but easy was the point (and vegetarian and healthy, of course). We were having some 20 people over for my dad’s birthday, and already I was planning on an overwhelming number of dishes to be produced out of our too-small kitchen and served buffet style in the living room/dining room area. Besides, didn’t he understand that my recipes were only long and complicated by accident?

“For your blog,” he said, backpedaling and walking out of the room.

“People like easy,” I said, shaking my head.

Still, the “easy” bean dip never happened, but this tasty one did, and before you navigate away from this recipe to dump a packet of Lipton Onion Soup mix into your sour cream, stay for a little anecdote.

Here’s how it happened. First there was an excess of organic yellow onions. (I put onions on the shopping list without checking to see that we already had half a bag.) At around 9 a.m. the day of the party, while Wayne was still decluttering and had not yet begun cleaning the bathrooms and vacuuming, I considered the container of sour cream and soup packet.

I could mix them together and have the same “French Onion Dip” my mom used to serve at parties of my childhood. It would take 5 minutes to mix and then would sit in the fridge until guests arrived, becoming the flavorful dip that often disguises fresh veggies. And how bad would that shortcut be? My mom, who made her own coleslaw, potato salad, tabouli, and curried egg dip for parties, didn’t seem to mind.

But I’d read the ingredients. Did I really want to serve partially hydrogenated soybean oil, MSG, and preservatives? Not if I could manage the dip I’d been dreaming up in my head.

“What are you making in there?” Wayne asked, noticing mounds of minced onions appearing on the cutting board.

“Nothing,” I told him the first time. How could I admit to him that after my huff about trying to make things easier on myself, I was going to make something as simple as French onion dip into a big production?

On his second pass through the kitchen I told him it was an experiment with the extra onions. He looked suspicious, but I wouldn’t admit my actual plan, especially in case it was a disaster. The third time he came in, the onions were slowly cooking down in olive oil and butter. “Do we have any brandy, cognac, or white wine?” I asked.

“No. What do you need it for?” he asked.

“My experiment,” I said, still refusing to elaborate. My idea was to make the onions similar to Julia Child’s French Onion Soup, just without the soup, and then mix that into the sour cream rather than using the soup mix (which I’d bought for the purpose). I don’t know if other people do this, but it was an success (despite our lack of appropriate alcohol). It came out richer than the usual powdered version, the color and flavor continuing to develop all day, and even better the next day. (My version was a little sweet, but I suspect that’s because I used port, which if you know anything about alcoholic beverages was a strange substitution choice for cognac and white wine.)

In the end, Wayne heartily approved, but he says I can’t call this recipe “from scratch” because the sour cream comes pre-made.

It was so flavorful, I suspect you could probably do this with two onions to 16 oz of sour cream, even. I would absolutely make this again, given  some onions and an hour for cutting and cooking them (I’m a slow mincer). Cognac, white wine, and broth are helpful, but you could get by with water in a pinch. You can work something else on the stove or cut other veggies right next to the stove while all the onion cooking is going on–just don’t leave them unattended and unstirred. They are finicky like that.

Not-From-a-Mix French Onion Dip

  • 1-1/2 TBS butter
  • 1-1/2 TBS olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar (or less)
  • enough vegetable broth to deglaze the pan (about 1/2 cup)
  • splash of cognac and/or white wine
  • 16-oz container of lowfat sour cream
  1. Melt the butter with the oil on medium high in a large frying pan. When the butter is liquid, scrape your onions in and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. To cook down properly, onions should be well lubricated with the olive oil and butter; if not, add more of each. I never claimed this recipe was fat free!
  • Continue cooking the onions as they begin to brown. Sprinkle salt and sugar to help sweat and caramelize them. (Use all the salt, but you can use just enough sugar to lightly coat the onions.) Keep stirring.
  • You are not finished with these onions until they turn almost uniformly rich brown–Julia Child calls it “chestnut” color–and indeed it is deep brown, with almost a little purple hue, but not burnt.
  • With the burner still on, when the onions have turned their beautiful final color, add vegetable broth to the hot pan to deglaze. (That is, add just enough broth so that it bubbles furiously and releases the caramelized sugars and flavors from the bottom of the pan.) Then add a small splash of cognac and a larger splash of white wine and stir to get the last remnants on the pan before turning off the heat. The mixture should be wet but not at all soupy.
  • Add salt to taste.
  • Mix well with sour cream and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Taste and mix again before serving.

One Comment:

  1. Best French onion dip I’ve ever tasted. Love the fact that it contains no additives.

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