Brow Beat

The Genius No-Dairy Trick for Turning Vegetables Into Cream

Bowls of green liquid with swirls of white.
James Ransom

Even if you love cream; even if you love it so much that you plunk it into gratins and soups in long, loose-wristed pours; even if you are a person who drowns even their kale in cream, which is a true power play, if we’ve ever heard one—even you are about to fall for this low-fat, vegan cream alternative. Cream avoiders, you’ll love it too.

That’s because this “cream,” dreamed up by Grant Lee Crilly (cofounder of ChefSteps, the James Beard Award-winning offshoot of the Modernist Cuisine world, and purveyor of smart kitchen tools like the joule sous vide machine), is made out of little more than roasted onions, pureed until they swirl together into a glossy cream-like substance. There’s some lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to season it, but otherwise the backbone of sautéed onion—the start to so many good things—carries and propels forward the whole operation. “This is pretty frickin genius,” Food52er mrslarkin said when she sent it to me. “And now I want a bowl of onion puree.”

A hand pours olive oil over three unpeeled onions in a skillet.
James Ransom
The onions in the skillet.
James Ransom

Though this is not exactly a cream substitute—you’d never mistake one for the other—it might be an even better alternative to all things savory and silky. Because as much as some of us love cream for adding richness and body, we’ve found that it can inadvertently wash out all other nearby flavors (as seen in the classic last-minute soup-correcting problem).

Unpeeled whole onions in a blender on a counter next to a skillet full of peelings.
James Ransom

Onion puree is brighter and better, as promised—instead of obscuring flavors, it enhances them, like a well-made stock (or mirepoix or soffrito). Onion purée won’t pile on existing ingredients like a layer of spackle; instead, it acts as the ultimate multiplier—a deepener of flavor. It does wonders for filling out thickness and general oomph too, in a way that cream has been known to do.

ChefSteps, naturally, uses a Vitamix to get pro-level silkiness, but you can employ whatever blender you have. If you want your puree to be perfectly smooth, just pass it through a fine-mesh strainer after blending.

A bowl of onion puree next to a strainer full of onion flesh.
James Ransom

Beyond showing it off in soups, Crilly wrote to me, “You can add swap it in for cream in your risotto, add to pasta with fresh herbs for a healthier, brighter, but still decadent-tasting dish, whip it into your mashed potatoes, or use it in a quiche to lighten up the base.” Or, call mrslarkin’s bluff and eat a straight bowl of it. (Try doing that with cream.)

ChefSteps’ Onion Cream

Adapted slightly from

• 3 large onions (sweet or regular)
• vegetable oil
• salt, to taste
• lemon juice, to taste
• olive oil, to taste

See the full recipe on Food52.

More from Food52:
The Creamy Gorgonzola Pasta My Mom’s Been Making Since the ’50s
How to Make Kombucha at Home (It’s Simple!)
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