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Onions are underground bulbs that are related to the lily family. They should be stored in a cool, dry place, and the sooner you use them, the better.
With the exception of leeks and scallions, onions should not be refrigerated, unless there is an unused portion, which should be wrapped in plastic first.
Types of onions
Onions can be eaten raw or boiled, braised, baked, microwaved or sautéed. They also come in three colors: yellow, red and white.
Yellow onions are full-flavored and can be cooked with almost anything. They turn a rich, dark brown when cooked and give French onion soup its tangy sweet flavor.
The red (or purple) onion is the best choice for eating fresh or in grilling or broiling.
White onions have a sweet flavor when sautéed and are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican cuisine.
The Vidalia onion is the official state vegetable of Georgia, discovered many years ago by surprise when a Georgia farmer found out that his onions were not hot! The state’s sandy soil and mild growing climate are credited with their sweet taste. Sweet Vidalias, by law, can only be grown in 20 Georgia counties.
So why do they make you cry?
When an onion is pierced, a series of sulfur-based compounds are released. Sulfonic acid is then given off, which triggers our tear response when we breathe it in.
Onions also make for great tasting side dishes. You can’t go wrong with the following:
Baked Stuffed Onions
2 large Spanish onions, peeled and cut in half horizontally
2 oz. breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Brush each half of the onion with olive oil and bake in a 350-degree oven until onions start to soften. Remove onions and scoop out a hole in the center, leaving a base for the stuffing. Do not scoop too wide a hole or the onion will lose its structure.
In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Chop the onion you scooped out and mix it with the breadcrumbs. Moisten the mixture with enough olive oil to hold it together. Fill the onion halves and return them to the oven until the stuffing is brown, about 30 minutes. Makes 2 servings.
16 oz. chicken stock
1 oz. butter
2 Tbsps. parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim the root end of the leeks, but not completely, leaving enough for the leek to stay intact. Cut the last couple inches of the dark greens. Without cutting the root end, slice the leeks in half lengthwise, give them a quarter turn and slice lengthwise again. Rinse under running water to remove all the grit in between the leaves.
Over medium-high heat, place the leeks in a large skillet with the butter. Allow leeks to brown slightly, rotating them for even doneness. Add the chicken stock, half the parsley, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, leave a crack for evaporation, and then simmer until soft, about 20-30 minutes. Sprinkle with the remainder of the parsley just before serving. Makes 2 servings.
Sautéed Onions with Raisins and Cinnamon
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 sweet or Vidalia onions, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
4 ozs. tomato sauce
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 Tbsp. raisins or dried currants
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
Ground black pepper
In a skillet over low-medium heat, add the olive oil and onions and sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions from the skillet. Add the coriander, cumin, and cinnamon to the skillet and sauté for 1 minute. Return the onions to the skillet; add the tomato sauce, broth, raisins or currants, and bay leaf; cook for 30 minutes or until the sauce is thick and the onions are tender. Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the sugar and season with pepper to taste. Makes 2 servings.
Grilled Cabbage with Bacon and Onion
This makes for a great side while grilling your favorite meats.
1 head cabbage, diced
1 stick butter, softened
1 medium onion, diced
5 slices bacon, diced
Crushed red pepper flakes
Place all ingredients in a foil-lined pan. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Cover with foil and cook on grill over medium heat until done, about 45 minutes. Makes 2-4 servings.
Green Onion Dressing
This dressing will go well with most salads, but it will especially enliven greens like iceberg or Boston lettuce.
3-4 green onions, including the stem
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 tsps. Champagne vinegar, (or use plain white vinegar)
1 small garlic clove
1 tsp. salt
1/2-cup extra virgin olive oil
Rinse onions, trim the root end and then roughly chop them. Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender and puree; add the oil in a slow, thin stream until it is incorporated.
This savory onion custard seasoned with herbes de Provence uses only five ingredients.
2 Tbsps. butter
2 cups yellow onions, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. herbes de Provence
4 egg yolks
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt butter in a medium skillet; add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in herbes de Provence, salt and pepper; cook for another minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Using a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with cream, and then stir in onion mixture. Divide evenly among six 4 oz. ramekins. Place in a large baking pan with two-inch sides and fill halfway up with boiling water; transfer to oven. Bake until custards are set, about 30 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, email him at email@example.com.