This simple yet complex side dish is typical to traditional Sephardic cooking: very few ingredients and seasonings, slowly cooked and caramelized in the oven, creating a fragrant and tasty dish.
Granted, this is not a dish you would quickly make, but if you’re home on a cold winter’s day, just place it in the oven and wait for the wonderful results.
The naturally sweet pearl onions’ flavor is enhanced by the “Dulce Y Agro” (sweet and sour) sauce, which is subtle and not as bold as the more familiar Asian sweet and sour sauce, as it relies on tomato paste and lemon for acidity and on a bit of sugar for the sweetness. The finished dish has wonderful deep color and a concentrated sweet-sour-salty-caramelized flavor.
The onions are perfect as a warm side dish with roasted meats, chicken or fish. They can also be used at room temperature as a crostini or sandwich condiment, with cheeses or cold cuts.
A few notes:
* Soaking the pearl onions in boiling water makes peeling them much easier. I highly recommend not skipping this step.
* If you can’t find fresh pearl onions, frozen peeled pearl onions can be used. However, the onion flavor will be less pronounced, the texture will be softer, and they most likely will not keep their shape as shown here.
* The dish can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge, in an air-tight container. Bring to room temperature and reheat very gently, so that the onions keep their shape.
More information about Sephardic cooking can be found in THIS POST.
Soaking time: 15 minutes
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 1 ½ hours
10 oz (285 grams) gold pearl onions
3 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs light olive oil
1. Place the pearl onions in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let cool to room temperature and peel carefully, keeping the onions whole. Place the onions in a wide pot, in one layer.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and pour into the pot.
3. Bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
4. Preheat the oven to 320F (160C). Place the covered pot in it and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the pot and keep on baking for half an hour, or until most of the liquids have evaporated, and the onions are caramelized and soft, but still keep their shape.