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Wednesday, May 23, 2007 12:58 am

Onion dip without mix

A healthier way to flash back to the Â’70s

Untitled Document As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I defined food in terms of catchy names and brightly colored boxes rather than as meals made from scratch. The menu of my childhood was defined by my mother, whose views about feeding her family were shaped largely by the advertising world. For a 28-year-old mother of three, instant-presto food out of a box or a bag was a small miracle of convenience. Why labor over homemade chocolate layer cake when you could stick a foil-wrapped Yodel in the kids’ lunch box instead? A homey plate of spaghetti and meatballs was replaced by a bright-red can of heat ’n’ serve Chef Boyardee. And if she was feeling particularly ambitious, Hamburger Helper was at the ready, complete with a can of sauce and packet of seasoning and noodles. All she needed was ground beef to turn this box into a banquet. She shake-and-baked, she french-fried green beans, and she taught us how to Jiffy our popcorn. It was the way of our middle-class manufactured world, a spectacle of kitchen magic tricks, and we knew nothing else. So in reality, when people ask me whether my mother was a good cook, I should say that she never really learned and instead extol her virtues as a hostess, a skill that was not lost on me.
I remember Thursday evenings as bridge night, when her gaggle of girlfriends would come over to play cards. She’d assemble a smorgasbord of nibbles that included nonpareils, Chex Mix, and the pièce de résistance, a chip-and-dip combo made with Lipton Onion Soup Mix. I never told her this, but I loved her when she made the onion dip. It was strange and salty, pungent and peculiar, and, because she made it exclusively for parties, it felt special. Thirty-some years later, I try to keep an eye on the sodium, so those soup-mix envelopes are part of memory bank, just like 8-track tapes — but every once in a while, I have a hankering for the dip. Below is a homemade 21st-century version, made with real caramelized onions that take me back to the days of the box — and that’s a very good thing.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at
Onion Dip, Hold the Soup Mix
2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil One large sweet onion, thinly sliced Salt and black pepper (or white pepper)    to taste 16 ounces sour cream 1 teaspoon garlic powder 1/2 teaspoon celery seed 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Using a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil and add onion. Cook over low heat until onion is soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Be careful not to burn the onion, which will yield a bitter result. You may cover the onion to speed up cooking, but stand by to stir occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and cool completely. Place the onion in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the onion is pureed.
Spoon out into an airtight container and refrigerate for about an hour. In a mixing bowl, combine sour cream and the remaining ingredients, plus the chilled onion puree. Stir to thoroughly combine. Taste for the “onion dip” flavor that suits you and add more seasoning accordingly.
Serve immediately with chips or return to fridge until ready to serve. Makes a scant 3 cups of dip.