When my wife and I watch television we frequently have our show end just a few minutes before we are ready to retire. Short podcasts on YouTube fills in these 20-30 minute gaps. Lately, Beryl Shereshewsky’s podcasts fill this time slot. These are generally short bits on how different countries prepare different ingredients or what foods they eat for various reasons—comfort foods, sandwiches, what to feed sick people, hangover foods, etc. People from around the world send her recipes and video clips and she prepares and eats the ones she has gathered together for each podcast. One recent show was “How the world eats onions.”
The first recipe in the podcast was for Sudanese Onion Salad. This was a simple recipe with only three ingredients: red onion, peanut butter, and lemon/lime juice. There is some confusion on whether to use lemon or limes in this recipe. Nuha, the Sudanese woman who sent in the clip, says to use lime, but when Beryl made the dish she used lemons. I decided to use limes, but I am sure it doesn’t really make a huge difference which you choose.
The real trick to this dish is in the preparation of the onions. You do not just slice the onions and add the peanut sauce. You soak the onions shreds in salt water for 20 minutes to remove the sulfur compounds—the chemicals that make onions taste so strong—are released and washed away. This leaves you with mild, sweet onions that are amazing and do not overpower the peanut sauce.
As is my usual technique I could not leave well enough alone. I decided to turn this dish into a dinner salad by adding arugula, cucumber, and some roast chicken. Even Beryl put the onion salad on toast to eat it.
Karl’s Sudanese Onion Dinner Salad
1 large red onion
½ tsp. salt (preferably pickling salt, but any salt will do)
½ cup chunky peanut butter
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
6 oz. arugula
1 Persian cucumber, roll cut
½ lb. cold roast chicken cut into ¼x1½ inch bars
1. Slice the onions into rings and cross cut the slices into quarters.
Tip: The original recipe called for leaving the rings whole, but Beryl had trouble biting through the long stringy pieces of onion. It seemed like a good idea to avoid this problem.
Note: While you can cut the onions by hand it is much easier to use a mandolin, which also gives you even slices.
2. Place the onion slices in a bowl and cover them with water.
3. Add the salt and gently massage the onion pieces to soften the onions and aid in releasing the sulfur compounds.
Tip: Most commercial salts—even Kosher salt—has an anti-caking agent added. This is most commonly calcium silicate (CaSiO3), which absorbs water and oil and keeps the grains of salt from clumping together. While it has no flavor, if you use these salts for pickling your brine will turn out cloudy. Pickling salt is the only kind of commercial salt that does not add this chemical.
4. While the onions are soaking, put the peanut butter and juice in a large mixing bowl and stir them until the sauce is smooth.
Tip: Do not be concerned it the dressing seems a bit thin at this point. The ground nuts will absorb the juice over the next few minutes and thicken the sauce.
5. Let the onions soak in the brine for 20-30 minutes and then drain them thoroughly.
Tip: You want to remove as much of the moisture as you can, because it will dilute your dressing.
Note: Check your peanut sauce, at this point it may be a bit too thick and you will want to add onions that are slightly damp to thin it out just a little bit.
6. Stir the onions into the sauce to coat them.
Tip: At this point you can put this dish on hold for up to 30 minutes, because you do not want to add the rest of the ingredients until just before you serve.
7. Add the arugula and cucumber and toss the salad to coat the greens with sauce and to thoroughly mix in the onions.
Tip: The onions start this process in a large tight clump. Try to gently break up the onion knots into individual strands, so that they are fairly evenly distributed throughout the salad.
8. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl and serve the chicken shreds on the side, so that your diners may add as much as they like.
Tip: This dish has no starch, so a side of crusty bread is a nice addition.