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Cooking

Sweet harmony

When grill meets onion, good things happen.

Photographs by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Here comes an analogy that could indicate the recent heat waves have softened my brain, but sometimes I can’t help but think of the humble onion as Clark Kent and the grill as the trusty old phone booth. When onion meets grill, a remarkable transformation occurs. The flavor goes from sharp to sweet, the texture from crunchy to supple, and the char from the grill makes the whole seem like so much more than the sum of its parts. Simple, maybe, but always welcome as a side dish to any grilled summer meal.

TIP Lay onion slices flat to slide skewers in.

ELEMENTAL GRILLED ONIONS

Serves 6

Continue reading below

I like my onions just tender, as opposed to fully softened and silky. If you prefer a softer texture, grill them longer. Bamboo skewers can break when spearing firm onion slices, so I use metal.

5 medium-large onions (about 3 pounds), peeled, cut into ¾-inch-thick slices, and threaded onto skewers

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish, optional

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, adjust burners to medium-high and keep the cover closed while grilling.) Brush the onions with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and cook until browned and grill-marked, 12 minutes for just tender, and up to 20 minutes for a softer texture. Turn them over once halfway through the first 12 minutes, and then every 3 minutes thereafter. Slide the onions off the skewers onto a platter and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, garnishing with chives, if desired.

Variations

ORANGE-GLAZED GRILLED ONIONS

Follow the recipe for Elemental Grilled Onions, making the following changes:

Continue reading it below

1) In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring ¾ cup juice and 2 teaspoons grated zest from 2 to 3 oranges, 1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice, 2 tablespoons honey, and a pinch of salt to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the honey and simmer until slightly thickened and reduced to a scant ½ cup, about 8 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally. Off heat, set aside to cool and thicken, about 30 minutes.

2) Grill the onions for 7 minutes per side, then brush 1 side with half of the glaze mixture, turn, and grill until deep brown, 1½ to 2½ minutes longer. Brush the other side with remaining glaze, turn, and grill until mostly tender and the second side is deep brown, 1½ to 2½ minutes longer. Serve.

jim scherer

TIP Lay onion slices flat to slide skewers in.

GINGER HOISIN-GLAZED GRILLED ONIONS

Follow the recipe for Elemental Grilled Onions, making the following changes:

1) In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix 1 tablespoon neutral oil, 2 grated garlic cloves, 1½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, and cook, stirring, until mixture just begins to sizzle, about 1½ minutes. Whisk in cup hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper, and bring to a simmer. Set aside off heat to cool, about 30 minutes. Whisk in 1 tablespoon rice vinegar.

2) Grill the onions for 7 minutes per side, then brush 1 side with half of the glaze mixture, turn, and grill until deep brown, 1½ to 2½ minutes longer. Brush the other side with remaining glaze, turn, and grill until mostly tender and the second side is deep brown, 1½ to 2½ minutes longer. Serve.

BLACKENED CAJUN-SPICED GRILLED ONIONS

The spice mixture on these onions blackens on the grill and looks burned but doesn’t taste that way.

Follow the recipe for Elemental Grilled Onions, making the following changes:

1) In a wide, shallow dish, mix 1½ tablespoons each freshly ground black pepper, paprika, and garlic powder, 2 teaspoons each kosher salt, onion powder, and dried thyme, and ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper.

2) Grill the onions for 5 minutes per side. Using tongs, dredge the onions in the spice mixture to coat on both sides, then grill until the onions are mostly tender and the spice coating is blackened, 4 to 8 minutes longer, turning once. Serve.

GRILLED ONION RELISH WITH DRIED CRANBERRIES

Makes about 2½ cups

Serve with grilled lamb, pork, chicken, or sausages.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Pinch cayenne pepper

¼ cup cider vinegar, or more, to taste

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

¾ cup dried cranberries

½ recipe Elemental Grilled Onions, finely chopped (about 2 cups), with collected juices

Salt and black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

cup chopped fresh parsley

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix the oil, garlic, thyme, coriander, and cayenne pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant and the mixture just begins to sizzle, about 1½ minutes. Add the vinegar and brown sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the cranberries, return to a simmer, and cook, stirring, to soften the fruit slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the onions (and any accumulated juices), 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper and 2 tablespoons water, and cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Uncover and set aside off heat to cool to room temperature, at least 30 minutes.

Add the lemon juice and stir to mix. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt, black pepper, and lemon juice, if necessary. Add the parsley, stir to mix, and serve at room temperature.

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