If life gives you onions..

This one really is in the original spirit of Essex Road Recipes: local shops, banter, supportive communities and meals improvised around what’s available.

Since the sad and infuriating closure of The Market Garden (a family business closed down following the purchase of their site by a property developer in 2018, and yet still an abandoned shell) I’ve been shopping for fruit and veg from the stallholders in Chapel Market. Like the late Market Garden, they have low prices, fresh produce and excellent *banter. The perfect combination.

I was there yesterday and the stallholder had a surfeit of onions and apples. He offered me 10 of each for £1. I explained that, since I live on my own and still can’t invite friends over to dinner, it was unlikely that I’d find a use for 10 onions before they started to rot. Cue banter; cutting the price of onions and crying all the way to the bank, if life gives you onions make onionade, how the garden of Eden story might have ended differently if there had been 10 apples to choose from, if Eve had offered Adam an onion instead of an apple would their relationship have ended in tears, 10 days without a doctor…..

So, of course, I took the 10 onions and the 10 apples.

I had decided to make French onion soup and to juice the apples for breakfast. But then I had an improv foodie idea; French onion soup traditionally requires a little sugar to caramelise the onions in the early stages of the process. What if I were to use grated apple instead?

So I did, and it’s not as sticky as the original, but it is delicious.


50g butter and 1 tbsp olive oil

10 medium onions. Sliced thinly but not chopped.

Half an apple, grated.

4 garlic cloves – finely chopped

2 tbsp sieved plain flour

250 ml white wine

1 litre beef stock

8 small slices of baguette

140g grated cheese. Ideally comte, emmental, gruyere or mature Irish cheddar

What to do, roughly speaking

Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan.

Fry the onions on a high heat for a couple of minutes, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and let the onions sweat for another 10 minutes.

Add the grated apple, turn up the heat a little and keep cooking, stirring frequently for another 15 minutes – the onions should be brown and sticky, but be careful not to burn them.

Add the chopped garlic and keep frying and stirring for another 5 minutes.

Sprinkle on the flour and mix in well.

Turn up the heat, add the wine and stir well to make sure that the flour doesn’t turn lumpy, then add the stock.

Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes.

Just before serving, fry the bread on one side in a little olive oil, turn it over and sprinkle the grated cheese on the other side. Hold the pan under a hot grill for a minute to melt the cheese.

Ladle your soup into the serving bowls and place a slice (or 2) of the cheesy bread on top of each one.

Note: If anyone has perfected an elegant way to eat French onion soup, do share in the comments below. Otherwise, I shall continue to be grateful that I live alone and can allow my table manners to slide down the scale from “average” to “appalling”.

*non-UK Anglophones, banter = friendly, playful, sometimes teasing conversation.


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