an unusual trick to stop crying when chopping onions [$5 dinners]

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There aren’t many smells in the world more comforting and delicious than the fragrance of frying onions.

I’m sure when I’m cooking and someone says ‘wow, that smells good’, it’s onions that are responsible for the compliment more than half the time.

I owe onions a lot.

But as much as I love these humble, aromatic bulbs, I didn’t used to cook with them as much as I’d like. You see I’m one of those people who tear up almost at the thought of chopping onions. Yes onions used to make me cry. Big time.

In the past, I’d almost dread the onion chopping and inevitable crying eyes. But I knew the flavour would be worth it, so I soldiered on.

Then at Christmas, when I was beginning to get psyched to make stuffing for the turkey, I mentioned to my Irishman’s mother how I hated onion related crying. And rather than just imparting a little kitchen sympathy, she shared with me the secret…

All you need to do it hold a slice of bread from your mouth while you chop. That’s it.

And the thing is, it works!

Sure you feel a little silly, with bread dangling down as you chop. And you do end up with a slightly-soggy-in-one-corner sacrificial slice of bread. But there are dry eyes and delicious onions. It’s a small price to pay.

What about you?

Know any unusual but effective kitchen tricks? I’d love to hear in the comments.

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onion & white bean bake recipe


video version of the recipe


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warming onion & white bean bake recipe
serves 4

5 onions, sliced into half moons
4 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
3 cans white beans (400g / 14oz, each), drained
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
150g (5oz) grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

2. Heat a generous glug of olive oil and a large frying pan or skillet and cook onion, stirring occasionally over a medium heat until onion is melting and deep golden. Add more oil as you need it. Will take about 25 minutes.

3. Add thyme to onion and season.

4. In a medium heatproof dish layer about a third of the onions. Add half the beans and a little cheese. Repeat until all the ingredients have been used, finishing with the cheese. Pour the stock over and season.

5. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes or until golden and bubbling.

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Juiette April 28, 2011 at 5:23 am

I just made this tonight with sausages, it tasted really nice! Thanks for the recipe, I would never have thought of cooking beans this way.
I kept my mouth shut while cutting the onions, but they still made me cry…
Best wishes from Switzerland!

Ruth April 28, 2011 at 7:53 am

Just found your blog via Chocolate & Zucchini. This recipe looks awesome!

Lindsay May 6, 2011 at 7:47 am

2 things that work for me, other than wearing goggles…

1. Keep onions in the fridge;
2. Light a candle near where you’re working.

It totally helps! Alton Brown from the Food Network recommended the candle!

dory May 25, 2011 at 10:41 am

Chewing gum helps ease the tears. I’m bookmarking this recipe!

Avi August 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm

My trick for dealing with “onion tears.” Just hold a match just burned between your lips.

Willem August 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Wearing goggles would help, but it would make you look stupid. Anyways, when you cut onions up you damage the cells.. sulfenic acid is formed which burns when it gets into your eyes. Having a very sharp knife and properly slicing the onion (instead of cutting them with a straight down motion) helps in preventing excessive cellular damage and spraying of this sulfenic acid mist.

Or a fan to blow the stuff away probably

jennifer billingsley August 29, 2011 at 3:44 am

How do you make this without the stock? Just water or a little vinegar? avoiding sodium…

jules August 29, 2011 at 7:40 am

You could try it with just water Jennifer (I’d probably reduce the amount to 1/4cup to start with)
Or make your own vegetable or chicken stock so you can control the sodium levels

Riss December 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I love your website by the way!
My grandma gave me a great trick for chopping onions that i always use: Hold a mouthful of water in your mouth while you chop the onions. You don’t need much water, but I find it works best if the water is “pressed” against the roof of my mouth at the back (near my tonsils). Although a lot of the time I forget why I’m holding it in my mouth and swallow it.

L0E January 27, 2012 at 8:30 am

This recipe was delicious and very easy to make! Thanks!
And the bread slice tip worked very well.

Kelly March 27, 2012 at 6:57 am

Hi! Love the site – am cooking WAY more now that I’ve found this and actually linked your site & books multiple times! Can’t get enough!

Did have a question – what is the purpose of the stock and/or water? I have no problem adding it, just genuinely curious.

Thank you!

jules March 28, 2012 at 8:50 am

Great question Kelly!
It’s there to keep the dish moist.. otherwise it would dry out too much in the oven

Shanti April 14, 2012 at 9:48 am

A tablespoon of vinegar on the cutting board stops me from crying. It’s supposed to react with the acid from the onions somehow…

Merryn June 7, 2012 at 11:42 am

This looks wonderful. Any legume dishes are always a welcome addition to the cooking range and the combination of browned onions, cheese and cannellini beans sounds wonderful. So too, your trick of bread-in-mouth is certainly worth a try. I love your web site and healthy tips with great recipes.

jules June 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Thanks Merryn
So glad you’re enjoying Stonesoup!

CJ August 5, 2012 at 4:48 pm

Onion tricks: My favorite, used for years, is to simply light a candle on the table near where you are chopping the onion. It gives the kitchen a nice atmosphere and burns off the onion tear-gas. Also, putting the peeled onion in the freezer for a five minutes or so usually takes the edge off prior to chopping, or running it under cold water in the sink for a few minutes seems to work well. I live in a desert — let me tell you, desert onions are very sharp-tasting and will make you cry at first peel! Good luck – CP

jules August 13, 2012 at 7:42 am

Love the candle idea CJ!

Tabatha November 11, 2012 at 6:04 am

Putting a full glass of water near the onion works too, it neutralises the acid.

jules November 12, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Interesting Tabatha
I’m not sure about water ‘neutralising’ acid – but it could dilute it.
Thanks for sharing your trick

Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment January 29, 2013 at 11:22 am

My late sister-in-law (who was Welsh rather than Irish) used the bread trick for peeling and chopping onions. She passed away years ago and I haven’t seen anyone else use this method – so it was fun to read of it on your site! As for me, I just put up with the tears for the most part. :) Great site, I will come back to visit it often now that I’ve found it.

rekha February 7, 2013 at 6:54 pm

there is no need to bite the bread . you can just freeze the onion for couple of hours or store it in freezer will work well . and you will never waste your tear

L.D. March 30, 2013 at 4:09 am

I just refrigerate my onions and I never tear up. I wonder if Roy Orbison was chopping onions when he wrote “Crying Over You”? Or heck if you don’t have time to cool off this member of the “Lily Family” wear a gas mask or stand outside in a strong wind, maybe it will make those nasty Starlings tear up. Jus tryin’ tah halp! Hasta La Bye Bye!!!

Rob May 9, 2013 at 10:16 am

Thanks for this. I added raw kale before I baked and it turned out awesome. Delicious!

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