Here’s a basic template for starting with onions and ending with deliciousness.
1. Peel and chop the onions and garlic.
2. Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan, then add the onions. Let the onions cook until they get soft, stirring occasionally. Add a little more oil if the onions are starting to burn or stick to the pan. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, until the onions are starting to turn golden-brown and everything smells delicious.
3. Add some spices. If you’re making Indian food, throw in some curry, turmeric, cumin, and coriander. If you’re making Italian food, throw in some rosemary and oregano. If you’re making Mexican food, throw in some cumin, coriander, and a bit of cayenne or chili pepper.
4. Add some chopped vegetables. Cauliflower or parsnips or sweet potatoes or greens might be nice with Indian spices. Eggplant, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes are lovely with Italian spices. Bell peppers would be utterly delightful with Mexican food.
5. Add some beans or lentils. Chickpeas or leftover lentils would be good with Indian food, chickpeas with Italian food, and black or pinto beans with Mexican.
6. Serve with rice, pasta, tortillas, cornbread, focaccia, or something equally delightful. I think the a whole-wheat version of the focaccia with a bit of cumin on top would be really good with both the Italian and Indian versions of this meal.
7. If you’re feeling fancy, squeeze a bit of lime or lemon on top of everything. The Vitamin C will help you absorb all the iron from the beans and greens.
Note on timing: I find that things go best if I do them in the following order: 1)start the starch – mix the bread and put it in the oven, put the rice on to cook, start a pot of boiling water for pasta, etc. 2)chop all the veggies you’re going to use 3)saute some onions and garlic 4)add spices 5)add veggies 6)add beans 7)dish it up.
Note on vegetables: Add the thicker, tougher vegetables first, and the delicate, thinner vegetables 2-3 minutes later. In the Italian dish, for example, I would put the eggplant in first, the mushrooms in second, and the green peppers and tomatoes in last. Spinach cooks almost instantaneously, so always put that in last. If you’re cooking something really hard (potatoes, parsnips, winter squash, etc.), you might want to plunge it into boiling water for a few minutes beforehand so that it gets a head start.