Ode to the Onion–Go Beyond the Norm and Cook with Onions Differently!

Onion in the ground

Full-flavored, fat free and great for digestion, onions are a nutritious, delicious compliment to literally millions of recipes. Full of flavonoids and antioxidants they’re a vegetable it’s hard to get too much of. But even though the standard white and yellow onions are hardly a stranger to most kitchens, let us not ignore forget all their charms onions or the varieties out there waiting to be enjoyed.

Here are a few.

Stuff ‘em

Roasted and stuffed onions are oh-so-good! If you’re not into a strong, oniony flavor, opt for big red onions, Spanish or Vidalia onions. There’s plenty of recipes out there so you’ve got your pick. Roasting them whole then removing the inside portions and stuffing them with a mixture of meat, rice and herbs is one way to go. Go veg and do wild rice, kale and raisins. You can substitute roasted onions for any of those stuffed bell pepper recipes out there too.

Hazlo a la forma Espanola
Spanish Onions have a distinctive, mellower flavor. Traditional Spanish Sofrito is made with these kinds of onions so try it the Spanish way and sauté a few tomatoes, bell peppers and garlic and taste just how different these are from the good ol’ standard yellow. Try that Sofrito atop some nice, crusty bread with a glass of white and it’s perfection. Or get serious and made one of Spain’s most beloved and simple dishes (found everywhere from pubs to five star hotels) the Tortilla Espanola or Spanish Tortilla, an omelet made of Spanish onions and crispy, thinly sliced potatoes- it’s another great way to showcase our foreign friend.

Go Sweet with Cipollini, Vidalia or Maui Onions.

Cipollini Onions—These sweet, less acidic onions little gems can really jazz up any savory dish and everyone seems to get a kick out of their tiny size (about the size of a golf ball or smaller). The more you cook these little guys, the sweeter they get. There’s tons you can do with them, from halving them and cooking them stovetop with a little olive oil and a dash of balsamic, to roasting—my personal favorite.

To roast—rinse a pound of Cipollini onions (chip-O-lee-nee) onions in cold water. Use a paring knife to remove outermost layer of the onion. Toss in a little olive oil, just enough to coat and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

In a saucepan, combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup brown sugar, and two tablespoons salted butter (room temperature).If you’re feeling extra extravagant, you can add a bit of chopped up bacon, golden raisins or cranberries to the mixture. For Thanksgiving, I did cranberries and two strips of bacon, diced. Reduce mixture on medium high heat for around 15 minutes.

Stir onions and add vinegar/sugar mixture to roasting pan, basting them in the process. Roast for another 15 minutes (approximately). Onions are ready when they have a golden hue.

Vidalia Onions—These Georgia natives (the official Georgia State vegetable) are unbelievably sweet thanks to the soil they’re grown in. They’re a shoo-in anytime you’ve got to caramelize a few onions, whip up a quick onion chutney or relish and they make a dern’ good onion casserole and Green Tomato Vidalia Onion Gratin.

Maui Onions—Just as sweet as the aforementioned sweet onions, these guys are really juicy and are just as mellow as Hawaii itself. Slice them into rings and piece them with a skewer and grill them or make some mean, sweet onion rings by dipping them in buttermilk and dredging them in seasoned breadcrumbs. For really quick grilled onions, slice them into strips, salt and let them sit for then minutes then cook them stovetop with a tad of vegetable oil for twenty minutes. Great atop a pork chop! Caramelized Maui Onion Dip is just about the best thing you can serve with kettle chips, a great option for Super Bowl fare and the like.

Onion Relish and Onion Chutney
If you often find yourself wanting a little something to add to your sautéed vegetables, burgers or chicken breast, a batch of onion relish or chutney can go a long way. Old-fashioned, American Onion Relish tastes considerably better than anything you can buy at the store and, when canned properly, it’ll last you the whole year. Making up a batch of onion chutney is simpler than it seems. Grab your favorite sweet or acidic onions, garlic, kefir leaves and curry and you’ve got a fantastic addition to your repertoire that’s great on fish, atop omelets, potato pancakes or alongside homemade Idli Dosas or Samosas.

Jam On
You can get super creative and make preserves of sweet onion, orange peel and fennel or how about onion/fig or onion balsamic that can go equally well on top of toast, ice cream or lamb chops? For a more straightforward onion preserve, try a recipe like Hugh Acheson’s Caramelized Onion Jam.

Mellow out with Shallots and Leeks
In the past, the only time I ever reached for the shallots was when I was making fish, usually a white fleshed one. Since adding them to my garden, I’ve expanded my repertoire. Shallots are a fantastic substitute for garlic when you want to go a bit milder. Pungency and sharpness are need not be the only ways to flavor a dish. In fact, mild yet distinctive flavor can draw the senses in and add variety to our eating habits. Anything that calls for white pepper, béchamel or some other white sauce is one that will work well with shallots. Add to asparagus or spinach in place of the usual garlic for a tasty side that pairs well with chicken or fish. and In lieu of your usual aglio e olio, try sautéing a bit of shallot in olive oil along with any variety of sliced squash and parsley. For breakfast, slice very thinly, sauté and add atop cooked polenta, topped by a fried or poached egg instead of the usual Benedict.

Leeks are one mild onion you can’t go wrong with. Potato Leek soup is one easy way to go, or make them the way the Italians do; wash and cut them in half crosswise, using mostly the light-green stalk. Tip: after chopping off the dark green tops, leave the white bottoms intact and check for dirt under the top of the light green stalks. Rinse these under cold, running water, then chop off the white bottoms and halve the leeks lengthwise. Place in a non-reactive skillet, halved-side-down. Add two tablespoons olive oil, a halved tomato or a few grape tomatoes and some capers or olives and a bit of the olive or caper juice and a dash of salt. Cover with a lid and cook on low heat. Basically, just forget about this dish, while you make the rest of your meal. I’ve cooked these for 1-2 hours and they’ve always turned out great!

Onions are much more than just acidic seasoners, they’re versatile vegetables with beneficial health properties that can even star as the main attraction. Next time you’re in the produce isle or at the farmer’s market, take a break from the usual routine and give these guys their due!

Have other oniony ideas you want to share? Well leave a comment!

Until then,
Happy Eating!

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