While I probably won't be watching the Big Game this weekend, I'm not immune to the fact that this means we're heading into prime chip and dip season. In honor of this, I'm excited to rescue and rethink a once famous and now somewhat neglected dip from my childhood: The French Onion Soup Dip.
This is my new take on this iconic dip, which substitutes Greek yogurt for the mayo and sour cream and swaps in real onions and other aromatics for the somewhat questionable ingredients in that packet of dried French onion soup.
The classic French onion soup dip recipe from my childhood involved folding a packet of dried soup mix (either Knorr or Lipton) into a container of sour cream. You might have gotten a little fancy and added in a few dollops Hellman's Mayo, but basically that was it. It was usually served with potato chips although occasionally, if someone was on a diet, a few spears of carrots and celery would make an appearance. Oh, the good old days!
What made the dip so popular (besides the ease of preparation) was the irresistible combination of the creamy sour cream and mayo base with the sweet and salty onion soup mix, which was super concentrated since its original purpose was to be diluted into a soup. Of course the whole thing was punched up with MSG to make a potent umami + fat flavor bomb.
Fast forward to today and I'm not really into the mostly sodium and chemical mix that makes up dried soup mixes. Nor am I interested in hoovering up a bowl of sour cream and mayonnaise, especially with potato chips. So I decided to deconstruct the recipe and rebuild it into something more in keeping with today's tastes.
Finding a replacement for the sour cream base was easy. Delicious, tangy greek yogurt offers a more healthful but equally thick and creamy texture. It adds richness as well as a little tang. I used a local whole milk brand (Straus Whole Milk Greek-Style Yogurt) but it's your choice as to whether you use a lower fat (or no fat) version. Just be sure it's plain, not flavored!
The substitute for the onion soup mix was a little more complicated but not overly so. French onion soup is basically caramelized onions, which makes up the majority of the flavor, so I visited Emma's tutorial on How To Caramelize Onions to brush up on the technique. Note: For this recipe, the onions are chopped fine so they will cook faster (and have a greater potential to burn) than larger slices of onions. I highly recommend having a little water or wine on hand to splash into the pan if the onions start to scorch.
Instead of MSG and "beef stock," I used Worcestershire sauce, homemade celery salt (this recipe!), a touch of garlic, and black pepper. This combination, along with the onions, gave the dip rich, savory flavor with a touch of sweetness.
I wanted one more note, one more flavor to complete the profile. I liked the hint of green, vegetal flavor from the celery salt but it needed more. Chopped parsley would be nice, but fresh thyme called out to me. So I stripped a few springs worth into the onion mixture as it was cooling and gave it a taste. Although it's a slight departure from the original flavor profile, I really liked the bright herby notes the thyme brings. Perfect!
French Onion Dip with Caramelized Onions and Greek Yogurt
Makes about 3 cups
1/4 cup oil (olive or canola or rice bran)
4 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (about 4 cups)
Pinch of salt
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt (either no-, low-, or full-fat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt (either table salt or homemade celery salt) or to taste
Add the oil and onions along with a big pinch of salt to a large sauté pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions caramelize into a deep brown color. This may take 15 minutes or more. You may need to add a splash of water or wine towards the end if the onions begin to burn.
When the onions are done, add the minced garlic and stir for several seconds until you can smell the garlic. Turn off the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce. Strip the leaves from the two sprigs of thyme and add to the onions. Let cool.
In a bowl, mix the cooled onions and the yogurt until blended. Stir in several turns of freshly ground black pepper. Taste for salt. If you are serving this with salted chips, be sure to use one for your final tasting so you can adjust accordingly.
Serve garnished with a sprig of thyme and surrounded by your dippers of choice (see below). This dip can be made a day in advance, kept well-covered in the refrigerator.
- The thyme and homemade celery salt are optional, but I really like the bright, vegetal quality they offer to the dip.
- The dip tastes better if it's given several hours for the flavors to blend. It can even be made the day before with excellent results.
- The onions can be caramelized a day or two in advance as well. Follow the recipe through Step 2 then place the cooled onions in a container, cover, and refrigerate until needed.
- The texture of the dip calls for finely chopped onions. This means they will cook more quickly and burn more easily than larger cuts of onion when caramelizing, so keep an eye on them, stirring frequently. It also helps to keep a little water or wine nearby so the pan can be quickly deglazed and cooled if the onions start to scorch.
- Potato chips are the classic dipping vehicle but fresh vegetables such as carrot and celery sticks, cut up bell pepper strips, radishes, and so on are great. Alternative chips such as sweet potato and taro are also delicious.
(Image credits: Dana Velden)