Tackling the Onion Crisis: What to do without them and yet keep Food Tasty?

Tackling the Onion Crisis: What to do without them and yet keep Food Tasty?

Gunjan Sharma | December 07, 2019 12:41 hrs

If you have witnessed local chanawalas add shredded radish to their chana instead of onion, you should know that the onion crisis is here! 

Onion is that one ingredient that always finds top spot in majority of the savoury Indian dishes. For some it is almost impossible to imagine cooking without onions. Be it raw, fried or in the form of paste, onions always find its way into any Indian kitchen. 

The rising prices of onions and their shortage in the market have started to punch a hole in the kitchen budget of the average Indian. 

Onions were being sold at Rs 100 - 110 per kg in Guwahati as on December 6 last. 

Recently a bizarre incident took place in West Bengal’s East Midnapore district, where thieves escaped with onions worth Rs 50,000 along with some garlic and ginger but didn’t touch the cash counter. Which clearly states: Ye-pyaaz nahi hain aasan!

Onion and garlic are the heart of major cuisines from around the world. And it has a strong hold in the Indian cuisine too. For some it is very difficult, nay impossible to cook or consume meals without onions. 

And with picky eaters it becomes even more difficult. Though there is no substitute for the kitchen master onion, here are some options that you might try given the current scarcity of onions. 


Panchphoron (or Pas Phoron) in Assamese is a very common household whole spice blend which is used in major vegetables, meat and lentils. This spice mix is believed to have originated from the Indian subcontinent. 

Panchphoron means "five spices", which includes fenugreek seed aka methi, nigella seeds/black cumin seed aka kalonji, cumin seeds aka jeera, black mustard seed aka sarso/rai and fennel seeds aka sauf. 

Panchphoron is called Pachphoṛon in Begali, Paanchphorana in Maithili, Padkaune Masala in Nepali and Panchuphutana in Odia. This mix of whole spices works as a magic on the majority of meat, vegetable and lentil dishes making them smell and taste amazing. 

Sirke wali muli aur gazar

Raw onions sprinkled with lemon are an indispensable aside of any Indian meal. Onions are also served as sirke wala pyaaz in majority of the north Indian restaurants. For those who miss the crunch, the most easily available crunch-providing substitutes for onions could be cucumbers, carrots, radish and spring onions. And in the absence of sirke wala pyaaz or vinegar diluted onions one can try sirke wal imuli aur gazar or vinegar diluted radish/carrot. This simple combination of vegetables is easy to make and tastes great with meals. 

Note: There are various benefits of radishes as they are a great source of fibre, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C and calcium. They are beneficial for your digestive system and can help relieve bloating or indigestion.

Just in case you want to try, here is a quick recipe:
Boil water and add black pepper, cinnamon, clove, beetroot, green chillies, ginger, vinegar, sugar and salt. Let the mix boil for a few minutes. Add chopped radish and carrot in a glass jar and top it up with the mix. Keep it for 24 hours. Your vinegar diluted vegetables are ready to eat. 

This option definitely provides the crunch to your meal. 

Speaking to G Plus, Shimu Dutta, a recipe curator and columnist said, “Initially our ancestors used to cook food without onion. With the use of Indian spices like cumin and nigella seeds, one can make delicious vegetables and meat items without missing the flavour of onion.” 

With the on-going winter season she also shared a quick seasonal salad recipe with us which will make you relish your taste buds:

Add lettuce leaves, fresh blanched corn, chopped tomatoes, carrots, oranges, spring onions, kiwi (optional) and grilled chicken (optional) in a bowl. For the dressing mix 4 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, red chilli flakes, lemon and salt. Add the dressing to the fruit and vegetable mix and enjoy your delicious salad. 

You can also add in other fruits and vegetables according to your preference. 

We also spoke to Gitashri Bhuyan, a Guwahatian, who said that she makes various vegetable and meat curries without onion which taste as good as the ones with onion. She also shared her homely Sagolir Manxo aka mutton curry recipe with us.
Here goes her recipe: 

In a pan, add oil, bay leaves, dry chillies, cardamon aka elaichi, cinnamon aka dalchini and let it fry. Then add green chillies and ginger paste and let it fry for a few minutes. Add mutton pieces along with some potatoes and let it cook for a while. Later add a paste of smoked or boiled tomatoes along with turmeric, salt, cumin, black pepper powder and red chilli powder for colour. Mix it all and let the meat cook until it is cooked. 

According to some sources, ‘Maroi Napakpi’ (chives) is commonly used by the Manipuris while cooking in place of onion, garlic and ginger. Another masala plant leaf called ‘yenammana’, is also used in place of onions.These can also be used as a tarka or tempering in vegetables and lentils. 

Another Guwahatian, Gunojit Sharma told G Plus that she uses a paste of coriander leaves, green chillies, ginger and tomatoes to thicken vegetable/meat curries instead of onions. “The freshness and dominating aroma of coriander leaves add a different flavour to the curry which won’t let you miss the flavours of onion,” she added.
Devanga Pallav Saikia, from the food & beverage industry told G Plus that, there are several dishes which can be made without onion that wouldn’t compromise its taste. “In dishes like pork curry or boiled chicken where we do not generally use onion, there will be no difference in the taste if we use the right amount of garlic, ginger, cumin and a few other spices,” said Saikia. 

Adding he said, “I feel ginger and garlic play a major role in cooking as they add in sufficient flavours to the dish and won’t let you miss onions.” He also mentioned that with the arrival of leafy vegetables in the market like coriander, Lai Zaak aka vegetable mustard and spinach, one can easily make various meat dishes without the use of onions.
Spring Onions

Spring onion or scallion is another member of the Allium onion species. It is majorly green in colour with a small bulb. Spring onions are used as a vegetable and can be consumed either raw or cooked. The leaves are used to garnish dishes and sometimes even used to cook along with other vegetables or meat dishes. They have a milder taste than onions.
Note: Scallions also help in improving immunity and maintaining blood pressure. 

Cooking without onion is not a new phenomenon; it has been a part of the Indian culinary scene since time immemorial. Many home cooks and professionals make delectable food without using onion or garlic. As most of us are in love with the flavours of onion and have made it a major part of our food habits, the news of its price hike has saddened many. 

Hope these options help you deal with the on-going onion crisis.

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