Japanese Onion Salad

Before seeing this dish on Hiroyuki’s Blog on Japanese Cooking I had never heard of a raw onion – based salad and had not imagined it might be palatable. Yet, on Hiroyuki’s photo it looked both intriguing and seducing, so I decided to try it as soon as possible. When I finally took the first bite, I was simply speechless. I still find it hard to understand how an onion salad can be so refreshing, light and complex, even though the other ingredients play here an irreplaceable role. Together with the Tomato and Shiso Salad, it has become one of my staple side dishes for hot days. Thank you, Hiroyuki, for this excellent and original recipe!

If you cook Japanese, you probably already have all the necessary ingredients. If you don’t, the only two “exotic” products you need to buy is katsubobushi (shaved bonito) and ponzu sauce (which may be substituted here by a mixture of soy sauce and lime juice). I have lots of shallots I was offered by my family, so I used shallots instead of onion. Soaking onion is not necessary, but I don’t like the harsh onion taste and always do this.

Preparation: 15 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 medium onions or two shallots

1 handful of shaved bonito (katsuobushi)

3 tablespoons ponzu (or 2 tablespoons soy sauce+1 tablespoon lime juice)

1 heaped tablespoon mayonnaise

Cut the onion/shallot into thin slices (or use a mandolin to make transparent slices).

Put them in a bowl of cold water and let it soak for 15 minutes (or not, if you like a stronger onion taste).

Drain and pat dry.

Put the onion on a serving plate.

Sprinkle with ponzu, cover with katsuobushi and top with mayonnaise.


26 Replies to “Japanese Onion Salad”

  1. Thank you, thank you! Quite frankly, I’d never imagined that such a simple recipe could get such high praise from you (laugh)!

    1. Hiroyuki, thank you so much for this kind comment! It is not a simple recipe. It looks like one, but all the four ingredients create a complex and delicious combination! Thank you once more for this recipe!

  2. Aah, I LOVE bonito flakes. There’s a Japanese store in Paris called Kioko which sells it, but only small sachets. My ex-girlfriend, who was Japanese, used to have her mother ship her over HUGE bags of the stuff… I used to eat it like potato chips 😀 The salad looks delicious. Tell me, do you know a good recipe for noodle soup, like the broth which is served with udon? I’d love to be able to make something like that some time!

    1. Thank you Charles! I love katsuobushi so much (especially the big shaved pieces, not the tiny ones sold in tiny bags) that I bought some time ago a 500g shaved bonito bag (you know how light it is, so imagine 500g bag! maybe it was the same you ex-girlfriend got from her family…). I sometimes open the box where I keep it and put a handful straight to my mouth, just like you say, like potato chips (wait, don’t you say crisps????). Unfortunately, I am not good really with udon broth recipes… but go to Hiroyuki’s blog. He has lots of broth recipes, for example here: http://hiro-shio.blogspot.com/2011/01/udon-suki.html. (This recipe calls for lots of ingredients, but I suppose you can put inside whatever you want!).

      1. Lovely, thanks for the link. It seems like the sort of thing which could so easily be made at home, but it has an array of flavours which I’m just not familiar with so couldn’t even begin to identify. Hiroyuki’s blog should sort me out, and I can get all those things he mentions I think from Kioko in Paris.

        You’re right, it’s more “British” to say “crisps”, but the office I work in has about 30 different nationalities of people, most of whom have learned “US English”, so it’s often easier for the sake of communication to adopt the style which the majority will understand. I get mocked by my family for saying things like “I need to go to the gas station”, or “diaper” :/

        1. Thank you, I thought I mixed up the US and BrE. It’s true, the US English is more international and people are so used to the American pronunciation, when they meet a Briton (I am talking here about someone with a rather standard accent), they don’t understand what he says! Foreigners also find the American accent easier to copy (personally I adore the long British vowels and would give a lot to be able to imitate those properly, but don’t tell anyone 😉 )

          1. Udon suki should be great in any season, but I certainly don’t want to make it on a hot summer day. A 12:1:1 mixture of dashi, soy sauce, and mirin is a basic udon soup. If you find it a little sweet, try a slightly modified ratio like 12:1:0.8-0.7. If you want it a little lighter, try a ratio like 15:1:1.
            If you want to have udon with dipping sauce, try a ratio of 4-5:1:1.
            After a few attempts, you should be able to determine your favorite ratios, and you should also be able to reproduce the same flavor again and again.

            1. Hiroyuki, thank you for this generous answer! I think now Charles knows everything he needs about udon broth (and me too!).

  3. Oh yes, mayo ponzu! I love the combination of these two condiments and I make dressing with it. 😉 If you have a slicer and make it really really thin cut, you can eat it like… noodle (sorry I don’t know how to explain better). I’m so happy you are enjoying Japanese dishes Sissi! I bought umeshu the other day. =P I haven’t had it for a long time… was just in the mood. 🙂 Have a great day!

    1. Thank you, Nami! I am enjoying almost all the Japanese dishes I discover! (There is maybe one I am not really fond of…). Yes, I have a slicer (it’s called mandoline here), but somehow I always forget to use it in this salad! It’s funny how simple and humble vegetables, like onions, can be transformed into something incredible when made by the Japanese 😉

      1. Incidentally, which is the dish you don’t like? I still haven’t had the courage to try natto because it looks so….. funky!

        1. You read in my mind! Natto is the only dish I am not very fond of. I can’t say I hate it, because I love the cheesy smell (it reminds me of the French smelly cheese varieties) and the funny gluey consistency, but I find it very disappointing in taste. It’s bland. I only mixed it with soy sauce, so maybe I should have added more condiments…
          However, I must say if I were served this dish somewhere I wouldn’t have problems with finishing it, so I can say there is no Japanese dish I really hate. Now when I think of it, there are very few dishes I really hate in general. I am very open to new food experience. Rare, but chewy steaks are probably one of the rare things I cannot stand (although I could kill for a good raw steak tartare!).

  4. I’ve tried raw onion salad with lemon juice, chilli and cilantro. It was delicious, the raw onionny flavour was not there. Unfortunately I don’t eat it often enough. I love raw onions and tomato salad, no raw onionny flavour as long as there isn’t too much onion. You are elevating the humble onion:)

  5. Onion salad? Oh my goodness, I would have never thought about trying this combination, though from your description, this is just my kind of food! One question, did you use Japanese mayo or just any plain o mayo would do? Thank you for sharing Sissi!

    1. Thank you, Jeno! I would have never thought of it either! I trusted Hiroyuki’s good taste 🙂
      I used a normal French mayonnaise, but otherwise it would be great with the Japanese mayonnaise of course…

    1. Thank you, Greg! Actually if you soak the onion you don’t have the “onion breath” 🙂

  6. I’ve never heard of onion salad before, but I really really like the idea!! I am not that into Katsuobushi, but onion with mayo and ponzu??? Yum…!! I am sure this salad would taste great with a lot of Japanese dishes like chicken katsu, karaage, etc – the rather unhealthy ones (which I like ;))!.

    1. CG, I have recently also become a fan of all the greasy Japanese dishes (kara age, tempuras, tonkatsu…). Even if you take off the katsuobushi, this onion salad would be great with them! I adore katsuobushi so much, I won’t be able to test the salad without it, so please tell me if you try it with onions only!

  7. echalotte / shallots are a little bit strong in taste. For raw onion-newbies I would like to recommend also big sized white onions “Gemüsezwiebeln”. I don’t know the english name for this onion. The size is nearly apple size or even bigger. This onion tastes mild, sweet and juicy and is very good as salad.

    1. Thank you, Kiki. Personally, I find shallots more intense and aromatic, but not as harsh and violent as standard onions… (On the other hand since I still have lots of shallots and no onion I have never tried this salad with onions, so I have no comparison). I have never tasted the big onion you describe. I usually buy the smaller, yellow onions, which are quite strong.

  8. This looks lovely Sissi. I wouldn’t have thought of shallots as a main ingredient in a salad. I haven’t tried Japanese cooking before so when I do I’ll be sure to try this one! Thanks for sharing.

  9. I love the sound of this…I love raw onions but without the sharp taste… I North India we chop red onions into rings and marinate it in sea salt and lots of lemon juice (at least for an hour) before serving…The sharp taste goes and you are left with the sweetness of the red onions.

    I will need to get my hand on these exotic ingredients before I can make this one…sounds pretty nice. Thanks for sharing…

    1. Thank you Shilpa! I must try the Indian method. Here soaking in water for 15 minutes removed the sharpness. Once you buy several basic Japanese ingredients, they will be enough for most dishes. Most of the necessary ingredients keep for ages (sauces, miso, shaved bonito…). I hope you can buy them at least by internet!

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