Lately, the resident DJ in my head has been spinning one Ariana Grande track with reckless abandon. “No Tears Left to Cry” is an earworm and a bop, for sure. It is also the Official Onion Cutting Anthem. 

There’s really no use in sugarcoating it: I hate cutting onions. My face swells, my nose runs, my eyes burn. I’ve tried all your crazy tricks, too, so don’t tell me to press a spoon to the roof of my mouth or wear goggles anywhere other than a lap pool. My face has a complete meltdown when someone chops onions two rooms over, so I’m what they call “a lost cause.”  

I’d rather just (semi-blindly) crush through a bag of onions and caramelize them ahead of time than endure intermittent spurts of onion-induced agony throughout the week. That way, I can cry my rivers all at once and maybe even save a few tears for the things that matter, like an episode of “Queer Eye” or a local news story about an 18-year-old rescue labradoodle. 

Caramelizing a big batch of onions is a great plan if you’re interested in eating French onion soup for 12 square meals. But I’m certainly not, and I’m sure you’re not, either. Luckily for us, caramelized onions will improve pretty much any dish you muster up, and making them on a Sunday cuts the cook time down for this week’s recipes to 30 minutes or less. 

Is someone cutting an onion in here, or are these tears of joy?

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This week's game plan

Onion Soup With Kale and Cannellinis (V)
Sage and ginger come to play in this healthier (and heartier) spin on French onion soup.

Crispy Chicken Thighs With Crushed-Olive Couscous 
Briny olives, sweet onions and tangy lemon elevate this otherwise simple, one-pan chicken dinner.

Your Favorite Patty Melt
The Steak ’n Shake Frisco Melts of my youth are all kinds of jealous of this more mature interpretation. 

(V - vegetarian)

Your shopping list

All aboard the onion bandwagon! Click this link for an easy-to-save shopping list that includes ingredients for all three recipes.

Sunday task

Caramelize some onions

The key ingredient in caramelized onions isn’t actually onions. It’s time, and you’ll need a decent amount of it to get things right. Rushing the caramelization process will leave you with burned and bitter bits — not the sweet, golden brown onions you expect. 

Similar to the All-Purpose Tomato Sauce in Week 1, you can portion out the finished product in containers or zip-top bags for your week’s recipes. You’ll need 1 cup of caramelized onions for your soup, ½ cup for the one-pan chicken dish and anywhere from ¼ to ½ cup for two patty melts. Four onions might seem excessive, especially when you’re adding them in batches to the pan. But onions cook down significantly, and you’ll really end up with only 2 cups when it’s all said and done.

Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes. Cook time: 55 to 65 minutes.

Makes 2 cups. You’ll need: 

3 pounds yellow onions (4 large onions)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt

Cut each onion in half through its root and stem ends, then place it cut side down on the cutting board. Slice off the ends and discard the skin. We want relatively uniform pieces, so cut the onion into ¼-inch slices.

The sharper the knife, the fewer the tears. A sharp knife means a clean cut; a cleanly cut onion will release less of that eye-irritating gas. A sharper knife is also less likely than a dull one to slip on a slick onion and cut you.

Add the butter to a large nonstick skillet (straight-sided if you’ve got one) over medium heat. Once it starts to melt, add about one-third of the onions and stir. Cook ’em just until they start to soften, about 3 minutes, before adding another third of the chopped batch. Add the last batch, stir and cook for 3 minutes until all the onions have made it to the pan. Give them a light sprinkling of salt.

Drop the heat to medium-low and cook the onions for 45 to 55 minutes, or until they’re deeply golden brown. I’ll tend to other things nearby while the onions cook (like that stack of dishes in the sink) and walk over to give ’em a stir every few minutes. Around the 30-minute mark, the onions should be a pale gold color and might start sticking to the pan. It’s all good though; that’s when a bit of water comes in. Add a splash to the pan to loosen up all those yummy, caramelized brown bits (i.e., deglaze it) and repeat whenever they start to stick again. 

Once the onions are finished, let them cool completely in the skillet before portioning them out (if you’d like) in containers or zip-top bags. They’re good for a week in the fridge or a few months in the freezer (and thaw in a snap).


Onion Soup With Kale and Cannellinis

If you have an hour to devote to French onion soup, more power to you. I haven’t found an hour in the past two weeks to do my laundry and I’m running out of pants, so it should go without saying that I need a streamlined soup experience.

You won’t need a broiler or any special soup bowls for this bread-free, veg-heavy take on the classic French onion soup. The combination of sage and ginger makes this broth all sorts of heavenly, and the beans and greens beef it up enough so that one bowl is an incredibly satisfying meal. If you have crusty bread lying around, you can and should dunk it in this.

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 25 minutes.

2 servings. You’ll need: 

1 cup caramelized onions 
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
One 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated 
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 
½ cup canned cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups stemmed and torn lacinato kale leaves 
¼ cup shredded/grated Gruyere cheese

Combine the caramelized onions, sage and ginger in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the onions are sticking slightly to the bottom and the kitchen smells heavenly.

Pour in the broth and season with salt and/or pepper, as needed. Give everything a good stir and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat so the liquid is only barely bubbling and add the beans and torn kale. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the kale has wilted. 

Divide the soup between two bowls and garnish with shredded Gruyere. 

Loosely based on a recipe from “Martha Stewart's Vegetables” by the editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, 2016).

Crispy Chicken Thighs With Crushed-Olive Couscous

Caramelized onions are the perfect complement to the salt and zest of olives and lemon in this dish. In fact, you should just toss those onions into all of your one-pan dinners from here on out for an added boost of sweetness and umami.

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 30 minutes. 
2 servings. You’ll need:

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt
½ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives 
½ cup dried Israeli (pearled) couscous 
½ cup caramelized onions
1 cup chicken broth
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon

Pat dry the chicken thighs. Season both sides of the thighs generously with salt and then place them skin sides down in a cold cast-iron skillet on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for about 8 minutes, or until the skins are deliciously golden brown and several tablespoons of chicken fat have rendered. You may want to rotate the pan every now and then in case there are burner hot spots. Flip the thighs and cook for another 6 minutes, then transfer the thighs to a plate. They will not be fully cooked through, but we’ll get to that.

Meanwhile, let’s crush those olives. Dump them onto a cutting board, cover them with a little plastic wrap or a paper towel and go to town. I use the bottom of a Mason jar, but you could grab a small skillet, a meat mallet, your bare fists (okay, that’s a last resort); you just want to break them up a bit. 

Pour off all but a tablespoon of the rendered chicken fat (but for the love of all that is good, don’t throw it out; see the TIP below) and add the couscous to the pan. Push the teeny pasta pearls around with a wooden spoon for a minute or two to toast them. Add the caramelized onions and crushed olives. Toss things around a bit and pour in the broth. Season lightly with salt and pepper and cook the couscous, stirring here and there, for 6 minutes or until it has absorbed a good bit of the liquid. Tuck in the chicken thighs, skin sides up so they stay crisp, and cook for another 6 minutes, or until the couscous and chicken are cooked through and tender.

Elevate even the most basic roasted vegetables or a fried egg with the addition of rendered chicken fat. When you have a ton left over, store it in a glass jar in the fridge and use it in place of olive oil for a meatier vibe.

Grate a little bit of lemon zest over the thighs, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze fresh juice over the whole dish.

Leftovers: Your Favorite Patty Melt

2 servings.

What makes a patty melt a patty melt? “Cheese, obviously,” you’d say. And I disagree! It is the guarantee of bittersweet caramelized onion cutting through crispy, savory beef and nutty Emmentaler. So pull ½ cup of your remaining caramelized onions from the fridge, as well as 8 ounces of ground beef, 4 slices of Emmentaler Swiss (or regular Swiss or Gruyere or provolone) and 2 spoonfuls of mayonnaise. Grab 4 slices of marble rye bread from the pantry, while you’re up.

Season the ground beef with salt and pepper and form two thin, equal-size patties in the oblong shape of the bread, not your traditional burger hockey puck. Cook them in a hot cast-iron skillet with a drizzle of vegetable oil until deeply browned and crisped and craggly on the edges. Smear enough mayonnaise to cover one side of each slice of bread, then assemble the sandwiches — bread, slice of cheese, patty, onions, slice of cheese, bread — so that the mayo side faces out. Behold, the key to a diner-style patty melt or grilled cheese is mayonnaise on the outside and nothing else. 

Drop the heat and add the sandwiches to the skillet. Place a piece of foil on top and then press them with another, slightly smaller skillet or pan. Cook until the outside is golden brown and the cheese has melted slightly, then carefully flip and repeat. Cut the sandwiches diagonally in half and then ring that little bell, because your order’s up.

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Week 10 sneak peek: Pork tenderloin and care

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