Poker night part 2: ramped-up retro onion dip

I don’t know about you, but I remember a little something once called “California Dip” (or French Onion Dip). Basically, what you did was take a container of sour cream, add a packet of French onion soup mix, and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours. Voila: onion dip. All things considered, it was pretty good. I mean, it was just dehydrated soup in sour cream, but hey, this was a time when words like “teriyaki” and “balsamic” were things only fancy people knew.

So, I wanted to offer a more contemporary take on this old stand-by, once a staple of every party tray on the continent. The difference is that, while it used to involve opening two packages and combining them, this time I wanted to make it with…well…food. The idea is to caramelize some onions and then incorporate them into a creamy base. Essentially, you end up with all of the same flavours as in the original, except way better. In my experience, everyone loves this dip. Serve it to a bunch of people who might remember California dip and you might just blow their minds.

Ramped-Up Retro Onion Dip

1-2 cooking onions, fine dice (about 2 cups chopped)
1-2 bay leaves
butter or olive oil
white wine, vegetable broth, water, or a combination thereof
salt and pepper

about 1 cup sour cream
about 1/2 cup yogurt
about 1/2 cup mayonnaise

1) Place a large pan over medium-low heat and add enough oil or butter to coat. Add the onions and bay leaf and add a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a full simmer. You want the onions to cook very slowly, first cooking out the water, then allowing them to brown very slowly and evenly. If they start to brown visibly around the edges, you’re probably cooking them too hard. Reduce the heat to low once they have sweated out their water content, earlier if necessary.

2) Every so often, some brown bits will form on the bottom of the pan. This is pure flavor. Deglaze the pan periodically to lift up these little brown bits, making sure not to let them burn before you do so. To deglaze, add between 2 tablespoons and ¼ cup of liquid (wine, broth, or water) and stir to dissolve the brown bits (called the fond) and reincorporate them into the onions. I like to use wine for the first couple of additions, broth for the next few, and, just to make sure my dish doesn’t get too salty, water towards the end of the process. Eventually, you’ll end up with a very small amount of caramel-coloured onions which have an intoxicating fragrance. Remove the bay leaf and cool.

3) To make the creamy base, combine the mayonnaise with an equal amount of sour cream to loosen up the mayo (otherwise it might clump awkwardly). Then add the remaining sour cream and finish with the yogurt. Gently incorporate the cooled onions until evenly-distributed and place in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving. This gives the onion flavor time to spread throughout the dip. Correct with salt and pepper if needed and serve with your favorite dipping food.

Note: For a vegan alternative, try this tofu-based recipe.

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