By Matt Duckor, Epicurious
The last thing I expected Cortney Burns to make was the best French onion dip I've ever had.
A bit of background: Burns is one half of the duo behind San Francisco's Bar Tartine. Along with co-chef Nick Balla, the pair has garnered all sorts of critical acclaim for melding the food of Balla's Hungarian ancestry with ingredients and techniques from a mishmash of other cultures, from Asia to Scandinavia. She was in New York recently and stopped by the Epicurious Test Kitchen to do a little cooking from her and Balla's new book, Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes.
"I don't know the last time I've made French Onion dip," says Burns. "But it's the first thing that popped into my head when we were talking."
What we'd been talking about is the many flavored powders Bar Tartine delves into--stuff like making powders out of yogurt, burnt bread, and rice. It's the kind of stuff a high-end restaurant like Bar Tartine is built upon, but not something home cooks get into very often. But when we were talking, Burns suggested garlic and onion powder. Which, truthfully, I avoid. While it can be a potent flavor bomb, the store-bought stuff is doctored up with preservatives, extra salt, and artificial additives. Burns assured me that trying homemade garlic and onion powders would convert me: "They're just so concentrated in flavor, a little bit sweet, and incredibly versatile--you can fold them into breads, use them in marinades, or just about anything else."
And, as it turns out, they make for one hell of a dip.
Luckily, making your own garlic and onion powders is a heck of a lot easier than it sounds. Sure, you could use a dehydrator to do it, but there's an easier way--one with zero special equipment necessary. All you need is a gas oven. Don't turn it on, don't even look at it--the warmth of your oven's pilot light is enough to do the trick. The key to killer at-home powders is doing absolutely nothing.
Start by prepping the green onions and garlic. For the green onions, trim the roots and halve the onions lengthwise from the white bottom all the way to the green top. Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces and cook in a cast iron skillet over high heat until charred and blackened, about 10 minutes. For the garlic, peel the cloves, remove the hard stem end, and cut into very thin slices.
From there, the process is the same for either powder: Place the ingredients on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and leave it in a gas oven overnight. After 12 hours, remove the tray from the oven and grind the large dried pieces in a food processor to coarse flakes. Move the flakes back to a parchment-lined sheet tray and place in the oven for 8 more hours, until all the moisture is dried out. Process the results in a spice grinder and pass the powder through a fine mesh sieve.
That's it. Active time where you're actually doing something? Oh, maybe 15 minutes.
Don't have a gas oven? No problem, you've still got options. Of course, there's always a food dehydrator (set it to 125°F and follow the same time guidelines above). Following the same process with an electric oven set to its lowest setting (ideally below 170 °F) and the door ajar works well too.
With the super-concentrated flavor of garlic and charred green onions at your finger tips, assembling the best ever French onion dip is a breeze. Burns turns to rich, creamy ricotta cheese over the more conventional mayo for a dip that packs a lighter mouthfeel. Combine 1 1/2 cups high-quality ricotta cheese and sour cream with 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives, 1 cup caramelized onions, 2 tbsp charred green onion powder, 2 tbsp garlic powder, and 2 tbsp sweet paprika. Fold with a rubber spatula until fully incorporated.
The resulting dip tastes nothing like the stuff you had growing up as a kid. It's rich, creamy, slightly sweet, a little bit salty, and full of multi-layered, big flavors. And it's all because we put a few ingredients in an oven. "It's one of those simple things that sounds complicated at first," explains Burns, "but then you do it and you realize, oh wait, this is the easiest thing ever."
The hardest thing ever? Putting down the bowl.
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