Julie Van Rosendaal revisits Alberta's most iconic onion recipe

Julie Van Rosendaal turns her attention to the workhorses of the kitchen, the allium family — onions, shallots, leeks, chives, garlic and others — in this week's recipe column.

Introduced to Albertans in 1979 by Edmonton restaurateur Siu To, onion cakes still going strong

Onion cakes have been an Alberta staple since being introduced by Edmonton Chef Siu To in 1979. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

Members of the allium family — onions, garlic, leeks, chives, shallots and many others — are workhorses in the kitchen, providing a sweet-savoury foundation for dishes around the world.  

Starting a soup, stew, sauce or braise with onions is common in virtually all cuisines. Onions are often diced with celery, carrots and chilies, or added after warming a flavourful masala. It's an opportunity to kick start the Maillard reaction, which occurs between amino acids and sugars when heat is applied, causing food to brown, creating a whole new layer of flavours and aromas.


Salting the onions as you cook them will cause them to sweat, or release some of their moisture, and soften more than brown. If it's caramelization you're going for, low and slow is the way to go. (Don't be tempted to add sugar, which will caramelize itself, when you really want to caramelize the onions' natural sugars.)

Fall is the time to plant them — the bulbs themselves go straight into the soil, with the green tips pointing out of the dirt (if they're already growing, trim them back).

You can even grab a few bulbs of your favourite garlic, which grows so well in Alberta. Separate the cloves and plant each one tip-up, to appear in the spring.

If you don't have space for a container or garden plot, you can store a bundle of green onions in a glass or small vase on the countertop. The roots will grow longer, while the green ends continue to grow up top to be snipped off and used as you need them.

These green onion cakes have become synonymous with Edmonton cuisine. They were made popular at festivals and special events by restaurateur Siu To, who introduced the Chinese delicacy to the city back in 1979.

I took his lead to make my own batch, which are simple once you get the hang of the process — roll, sprinkle, roll, cut, squish, roll — before cooking in a hot skillet.

You can even freeze the uncooked cakes, between layers of parchment, and cook them from frozen as you want them.

Cooking onion cakes is simple, "once you get the hang of the process — roll, sprinkle, roll, cut, squish, roll — before cooking in a hot skillet," says CBC food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal. (Julie van Rosendaal)

Siu's Green Onion Cake

4 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1½ cups warm water

¼ cup butter (Siu used shortening)

¼ cup canola oil, plus extra for cooking

1 tsp sesame oil

2-3 bunches green onions, roughly chopped

1-2 tsp salt

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the water and stir until the dough comes together. Knead until the texture is, as Siu says, the same as your cheek. Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside for about half an hour.

Set a skillet over medium-high heat and melt the butter, oil and sesame oil.

Roll the dough out to a large oval as thin as you can get it. Dip a pastry brush into the melted butter-oil mixture and brush generously all over the dough. Sprinkle with chopped green onions and salt.

Starting at a long side, roll the dough cinnamon-roll style into a long roll. Cut crosswise into eight pieces. Squeeze and pinch the ends of each roll shut, twisting it slightly as you go. Flatten into a pancake with the twisted ends at the top and bottom.

Our food guide shares some tasty onion recipes as well as some tips for growing and storing them. 7:09

Roll each out into a thin pancake between two pieces of parchment. (At this point, the cakes can be frozen, with layers of parchment in between; cook them straight from the freezer.)

Cook the cakes in the hot skillet, with a bit more oil or butter if you need it, until they're golden on each side.

Serve: Warm, with hot sauce.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.