Golden Za’atar Onion Rings
By Nik Sharma
Veg-Table: Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals by Nik Sharma. © 2023. Published by Chronicle Books
I love fried food and herby dips, but there’s a more profound message embedded here: The combination of hot and cold temperatures is a joyful experience. The concept of contrasting temperatures works elegantly when hot, crispy onion rings kissed with turmeric and za’atar are dunked into the cold herby buttermilk dipping sauce. This makes a worthy appetizer; these rings are also great stuffed into a bun with the Masala Veggie Burgers (page 330) and the buttermilk caraway sauce. Serve with chilled ginger ale or beer.
MAKES 4 TO 6 SERVINGS
To prepare the onion rings, toss 2 extra-large white or yellow onions, sliced into ½ in [13 mm] thick rings, separated, with 1 tsp fine sea salt in a large mixing bowl. Cover and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature.
Buttermilk Caraway Dipping Sauce
Meanwhile, prepare the buttermilk caraway dipping sauce. In a blender or a food processor, blend 1 cup [240 ml] plain unsweetened buttermilk or kefir; ½ cup [20 g] chopped cilantro; ½ cup [5 g] chopped dill; 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped; 1 green chilli such as jalapeño, stemmed and roughly chopped; and 1 tsp whole caraway seeds until smooth, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Taste and season with fine sea salt. Transfer to a small serving bowl, cover, and keep chilled until ready to serve. The sauce can be made a day ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve, up to 3 days.
Put the onions into a fine mesh sieve, let the liquid run off, and rinse with cold water. Pat dry with a lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels.
When ready to fry, line a baking sheet with a layer of absorbent paper towels or a wire rack.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups [280 g] all-purpose flour, ½ cup [70 g] cornstarch, 1 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tsp fine sea salt, and ½ tsp ground turmeric.
In a second large bowl, whisk until combined 2 cups [480 ml] buttermilk or kefir, ½ tsp fine sea salt, and ½ tsp ground turmeric.
Work with a quarter of the onions at a time to avoid overcrowding. Set up an assembly line with the onions, your two bowls of coating mixtures, and a large unlined baking sheet or tray. Using a pair of kitchen tongs or two forks, add the onions to the flour mixture, toss to coat well, and tap the onion rings against the side of the bowl to remove excess flour. Dip the rings in the buttermilk mixture, toss to coat well, then tap them on the side of the bowl to get rid of any excess liquid. Return them to the bowl with the flour, toss to coat well, and again tap to remove excess flour. Place the coated rings on the baking sheet.
In a large, deep frying pan, warm over medium heat 3 to 4 cups [710 to 945 ml] neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as grapeseed, to 350°F [180°C].
Fry the onions in the hot oil, stirring to separate the rings, until they are golden brown and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer the onions to the prepared baking sheet. In batches, fry the remaining onions, letting the temperature return to 350°F [180°C] before adding the next batch. Toss the hot, fried onion rings with 2 Tbsp za’atar, homemade (page 341) or store-bought.
Serve immediately with the buttermilk caraway dipping sauce on the side.
THE COOK’S NOTES
- Salting the onions helps draw out their moisture through osmosis, softening the cells’ tough pectin just enough (do not soak for more than 1 hour), creating a crisper texture and more uniform taste.
- Avoid dredging the onions using your hands; it is messier, it leads to an uneven coating on the fried onions, and you might end up with not enough dredging mixture (most of it ends up sticking to your fingers). Two forks or a pair of kitchen tongs are your friends here.
- For an extra-crispy texture, whisk 2 Tbsp fine semolina into the flour.
- Buttermilk and kefir are interchangeable in this recipe; they are both tangy and creamy, and help bind the breading mixture to the onions. If using kefir, opt for a brand that isn’t particularly thick (Lifeway and Green Valley Creamery are two of my favorites).
About Nik Sharma
Nik Sharma is the author, photographer, and recipe developer behind Nik Sharma Cooks/A Brown Table and The Flavor Files Substack newsletter. He has appeared on the shows Chefs Secrets: The Science of Cooking (PBS), The Road to Cooking, and the upcoming series, Confluence (PBS). Nik’s work has garnered multiple awards from Saveur, Parade, Better Homes & Gardens, and the American Food Journalism Awards. His first book, Season, was a James Beard- and IACP awards finalist. His second cookbook, The Flavor Equation, was a James Beard Award, IACP Award, and British Guild of Food Writers Award finalist and winner of the silver medal at the German Academy of Gastronomy. He lives in Los Angeles. His third cookbook, Veg-Table: Recipes, Techniques, and Plant Science for Big Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals is out October 24 and available to pre-order.