Growing up in the southern U.S., I ate my share of fried food. I always tucked into the fried chicken or fried okra with relish, then felt a little bit queasy afterward. So, when I started cooking for myself and my family, I tried to bake as many typically fried foods as possible. Not only is this healthier, but it's usually easier, and for some of us it doesn't even get the kitchen as hot.
One of the first dishes I remade years ago was falafel. It took a few tries to get it right, and I learned a few things along the way. For example, aromatics like onions and garlic should be sautéed first, as the raw taste that would cook out of a fried morsel often remains after baking. If you can't saute onions first, use sweet ones like 1015s or Vidalias. Also, adding a bit of healthy fat in the form of canola oil, olive oil, tahini or even avocado can prevent your baked food from being dry. Finally, using some corn meal or rice flour in dough can make it crispy without frying.
When Nupur of UK Rasoi sent out an email recently asking fellow bloggers to join her in her new event From Fried to Favourite, converting fried dishes to baked or steamed ones, I jumped on the opportunity. This is an event right up my alley. I might have remade plenty of fried food already, but I still have a lot to learn, so I'm really looking forward to what everyone else has come up with!
For this round we could choose between samosas and onion rings. I made onion rings first as this is something I've been craving recently. I've made these a handful of times since last summer and they're the perfect side with a veggie burger or BBQ seitan sandwich. Not only are these onion rings baked and vegan, they're gluten free if you seek out gluten free corn flakes cereal. For the binder, I thickened some water with a bit of cornstarch. I think it actually works better than an egg would.
Baked Onion Rings
1-1/2 pounds sweet onions (1 extra large or two medium)
4 teaspoons corn starch
1-1/3 cups water
6 cups corn flakes cereal
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Peel onion and slice into 3/4-inch thick slices. Separate into rings and transfer to a large bowl.
In a small saucepan, combine cornstarch with about a tablespoon of water to make a paste. Stir in remaining water. Cook on high, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes translucent and starts to thicken around the edges, about 2 minutes. Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook until mixture is thick, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the cornstarch mixture over the onions and toss well to coat the onions.
Preheat oven to 425 F. Oil two large baking sheets. Use a blender or food process to crush about 2 cups of corn flakes to crumbs and transfer to a pie pan or plate. Repeat with remaining corn flakes. Add salt, paprika, garlic powder, black pepper and cayenne to the corn flakes and stir .
Working with one at a time, transfer an onion ring to the crushed cornflakes and coat well. Move to the baking sheet. Continue with the remaining onion rings. You will need to make two layers of rings on each baking sheet. (If the cornflakes become too clumped to stick to the onion rings, break up the clumps by pressing with the back of a spoon. You can also put the cornflakes back into the blender and pulse. You will also need to stir the uncoated onion rings back into the cornstarch mixture periodically.)
Place the baking sheets on two racks in your oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then switch the position of the baking pans. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until rings are crispy.