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Kitchen Witch - Onion dip without mix

Low sodium and carmelized onions make dip worth dunking into

As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I defined food in terms of catch names and brightly colored boxes rather than 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 envelope packet of seasoning and noodles. All she needed was ground beef to make this box turn into a banquet. She shaked 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 if my mother was a good cook, I should say "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 piece de resistance, a chip-and-dip combo, made with Lipton's 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 eight-track tapes. But every once in a while, I hanker for a yen of 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.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 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

1/4-1/2 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 onion, as it will yield a bitter result. You may cover onion to speed up cooking, but stand by to stir occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper, and completely cool. Place onion in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until 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 dip.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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