"Onions, to my mind, are the truly heroic vegetables. No battle in the kitchen can be won without them, yet they make no claims for themselves, wage no wars, and require no decoration".
"Red sauce without onions is a crime".
"This is the true historical being of the onion, the steaming primaveral taste that stems deeply into the collected chambers of the human mind. In all likelihood, our ancestors consumed onions before they caught the lightning's tail".
Photo © Whole Foods Market
Surviving without the onion...
Overcoming the onion habit is a tough jump to make. Using onions is in a way habitual, and a very familiar and easy way to add flavour. Replacing that flavour is demanding, to say the least. What's more, since the process is experimental, and unique to each person, it is a matter of trial and error, and finding what flavours and combinations suit best. Some grisly (and probably gristly) meals lie ahead. Much of the secret lies in just using different ingredients, or methods. However, since we already jumped the chasm, why not take the opportunity to change how we think about food in general?
Much of this website is devoted (as indeed am I) to the consumption of meat, so I apologise if it seems slanted against the vegetarian. I hope, though, that vegetarians will still find some useful ideas. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (even though he appears a firm devotee of the onion), explains some hugely important ideas about meat, in much greater detail, and far more eloquently than I, so I propose to do little more than list them - although they are quite central to the theme. You would do well to visit River Cottage, and to read Hugh's "River Cottage Meat Book" - you can buy it from Amazon through this site - and earn me a little towards the cost of hosting this site, as well!
Change your ingredients...
Since forsaking the evil onion I have searched for ways to recapture the depth of flavour that disappeared with it. For instance, I now use a lot more thyme in cooking, and lemon juice too. A little sprinkle of sugar (or honey) can work wonders - for instance in a tomato sauce for pasta, to remove any trace of bitterness that would've been masked by the sweetness of an onion. Garlic goes in more regularly now, and chillies as well. Without onions, I find that curries and other hot spicy foods don't give me any problems with bloating or heartburn. On top of that, I look for ways to alter the texture of food as well, since that shapes our enjoyment of food just as much as flavour. Try to make those stews thicker - and try to do it without just throwing in some cornflour; use stock rather than water, to pack in the flavour, and improve the mouth-feel of food.
Use a heavier pan or casserole, and cook for longer, at a lower temperature; give all the flavours more time to mingle. Use different cuts of meat, like scrag end of neck of lamb, or mutton breast, which need a little more care, and gentler treatment, but repay with a richer flavour. Let yourjoint of meat warm up to room temperature before it goes in to cook - don't just cook it straight from the fridge. And when it's done, take it out of the oven and let it rest in a warm place, to cool a little, and re-absorb some of the juices. The meat will be moister, more tender, and have more flavour, as a result. Wrapping it in foil at this point will help to keep it moist.
Most stocks you can buy contain onion powder, or flavour enhancers such as MSG, so make your own. When you do, use a minimum of fluid, to really concentrate the flavours and textures. In casseroles and stews, dilute the stock as little as possible, for the same reason; I try to pack in the ingredients, then add stock and water until the fluid is only just visible. And finally, when you're making stock, add little if any salt - you can always put more in later.
Finally, the preachy bit...
Try to get over the idea, promoted by the supermarkets, that it's possible to get meat that is both good quality, and cheap. It's not; good meat is (relatively) expensive to produce, to mature, and to store. If the supermarket is selling it cheap, then someone along the line is being squeezed on their price, and animals, and the meat they produce, are suffering as a result. Respect the ingredients, the animals, and the producers, by buying the best you can, knowing where it comes from, and wasting as little of it as possible. In short, use less meat, but better quality - and if you can buy from a local producer, so much the better!