Onions really should be the focus when it comes to cooking. This vegetable comes in many varieties including brown, yellow, red, white/Spanish, spring, shallots, glass onions, and the most significant one – garlic. Onions make the foundation of any good dish. They add flavour and enhance or compliment the rest of the ingredients. Onions can also stand alone in a variety of dishes like gratin, tart, quiche, or French onion soup.
Different onions should be carefully chosen for the dish you are serving. The regular onion can be too strong when served raw with pickled herring. Here you are better off using the red or Spanish onion or even a spring onion. Regular onions can be prepared so they are easy to digest. You can either blanch them for a couple of minutes in salty water or sauté in olive oil. Then you can add some lemon juice, apple cider, or vinegar if you like, to marinate them for later use. It’s like pickled onions. Grilled or oven-baked onions go well with meat, chicken, or pasta. You can also make delicious jams or spreads using onions. Their thin, light-coloured skin can identify fresh onions. Because they have higher water content, they are typically sweeter and milder than storage onions. This higher water content also makes them more susceptible to bruising. With its delicate taste, the spring/summer onion is an ideal choice for salads and other fresh and lightly cooked dishes. Storage onions have multiple layers of thick, dark, papery skin and have an intense flavour and a higher percentage of solids. Storage onions are the best choice for savoury dishes that require longer cooking times or more flavour.
Yellow onions turn rich, dark brown when cooked and give French onion soup its tangy sweet flavour. The red onion, with its wonderful colour, is a good choice for fresh use or in grilling and charbroiling. White onions are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican cuisine. They have a golden colour and sweet flavour when sautéed.
The long history of onions and garlic is not only culinary but also medical. Around 1500 BCE an Egyptian medical treatise, the Ebers Codex, prescribed garlic and onions for tumours, parasites, arthritis, and heart disorders as well as providing tasty recipes. And Alexander the Great of Macedonia is said to have fed vast amounts of onions to his soldiers on the theory that they restored courage.
Onions also make a wonderful table display. Take several storage onions that are sprouting and place them in the sun so that the greens really begin to sprout. You can use a mister to moisten the bulbs and greens to stimulate growth. When they are about four to six inches in length, gather up a handful of the bulbs and place in a wicker or glass bowl and place on the centre of your table. For an added bit of flourish, line the bottom of the bowl with moss. The greens tend to give off an aromatic sweet flavour to the room and it is said that they stimulate appetite. After a few weeks the aroma becomes more pungent, which is the time to replace the centrepiece.
It is also rumoured that placing the skins and peelings of storage onions around tender plants in the garden will keep rodents away. So whether you are gardening, making a display, or creating a tasty dish, experiment with the versatile and always satisfying onion.
Classic Onion Soup
4 large yellow onions (about 9 to 11 ounces each), sliced
6 tbs. butter or margarine
1 tbs. sugar
2 quarts chicken broth
½ cup brandy (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
½ baguette bread, sliced, toasted
grated Parmesan cheese
Melt butter in large saucepan that holds at least 4 quarts. Add onions; cook over medium heat 12 minutes, or until tender and golden. Stir often. Add sugar and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 12 minutes. If desired, add brandy; cook 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowl; float toast on soup. Sprinkle with cheese.
Makes 6 servings.
Charred Red Onion Salsa
3 medium red onions, skin on, halved (about 1-1/2 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbs. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. bottled crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup whole pitted olives
2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves (packed)
Place onion halves cut sides down in shallow pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until onions are slightly soft when pinched and their cut sides are blackened. When cool enough to handle, discard onionskins and trim stems. Place onions in food processor with oil, vinegars, and red pepper flakes. Process in two or three 2-second bursts or until coarsely chopped. Add olives and oregano and process 2 to 4 seconds just until chopped. Makes 3 cups.
Onion-Raspberry Jalapeno Chutney
4 cups yellow onion (3 to 4 medium onions), chopped
2 cups red onion (2 medium onions), chopped
1 cup dark raisins
1/4 cup fresh jalapenos (3 or 4 jalapenos), seeded and finely chopped
1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp. salt
2 tbs. orange zest, finely grated
2 packages frozen red raspberries (12 ounces each)
Combine all ingredients except raspberries in large kettle. Cover and bring to boil. Uncover and boil gently 25 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Add thawed raspberries to chutney, stirring lightly. Return to boil and boil gently 4 minutes longer, without stirring, or until slightly thickened. Pour hot chutney into sterilized jars and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 3-1/2 pints.