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Basic caramelised onions

Sep 20, 2021 | Accompaniments, Extras

A multi-purpose recipe
I have used the word versatile many times to describe recipes before, so I should rather refer to these as multi-purpose – because that is exactly what these onions are. Caramelised onions are one of those very, very popular recipes that I have shared with so many people before. You must agree that this recipe is simple, and uses everyday ingredients that everyone will make over and over again.

Prepare a big batch of these Basic caramelised onions when onions are readily available. Store the onions in sterilised glass jars, with a thin layer of olive oil poured on top, in the fridge. It is one of those ingredients that will put many ordinary dishes into a whole new light. Next time you go camping or are on holiday, prepare a big jar of these to make your cooking easy and interesting.

How to make gooood caramelised onions
The secret is to first sauté the onions slowly until they are completely soft. Then add the vinegar and sugar. These two ingredients will slow down the process of caramelising the onions, if added too soon and before they are soft. So doing it this way, will ensure caramelised onions with the perfect texture and much more flavour.

The first few times I made these onions I used dried thyme. Soon after I started adding cumin seeds and now, I alternate between the two flavours, depending on what I am planning to serve with the onions. I use thyme if I want a more delicate flavour, and cumin when I serve it with meat.

Ways to enjoy it …
Use these onions hot or at room temperature on homemade hamburgers or pizzas, in wraps or instead of a sauce on a piece of grilled, braaied or pan-fried meat or chicken. Mix roasted tomatoes into the onions for a divine sauce for ‘pap’ or on gourmet hot dogs.

A bowl of onions on a cheese board will be devoured very quickly and it is delicious as part of a filling in an omelette or mixed into scrambled eggs. You should never again make braai toasties (braaibroodjies) without caramelised onions. Or add them to cooked couscous for added flavour (see images below.)
I have often served these Basic caramelised onions with blanched broccoli and green beans on a bed of lettuce and a cheese, like feta or pecorino shavings as a salad and even the non-salad-eaters enjoy it. The options are endless, so enjoy in many creative ways. By the way, they make an ideal gift from your kitchen!


Caramelised onions
Caramelised onions


Basic caramelised onions

Recipe from Make five/Maak vyf
Makes 500 ml


30 ml (2 tbsp) olive or avocado oil

4 large onions, halved and thinly sliced

15 ml (1 tbsp) dried thyme or 5 ml (1 tsp) cumin seeds (or see tips)

45 ml (3 tbsp) soft brown sugar

45 ml (3 tbsp) balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper

45 ml (3 tbsp) fresh thyme leaves


  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and sauté the onions slowly with the thyme or cumin seeds until almost tender.
  2. Add the sugar and vinegar and sauté the onions until completely soft and caramelised – about 10-15 minutes. Season to taste and stir in fresh thyme.
  3. Serve hot or at room temperature. The onions will keep for a long time in a glass jar in the fridge.


  1. Robust herbs, such as fresh rosemary, also work well with the onions and even dried herbs are ideal. Spices like caraway or fennel seeds will also be delicious.

Images: Neville Lockhart.

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