As the weather cools, we turn our attention indoors. We move from the outdoor sizzle of the weather to the indoor sizzle of our skillets.
For some of us onions are off the table, as they say, for health reasons, spiritual practice or personal preference. Most of us can hardly imagine beginning a sauté without the sweet smell and sparkling sizzle of onions cooking in hot oil.
A garden plant native to central Asia and Palestine, the onion is widely appreciated as both a vegetable and a condiment, not to mention its legendary medicinal properties. Cultivated for over 5000 years, onions were held in the highest regard by the Egyptians, who used them to pay tribute to the gods and as a form of payment to slaves during the building of the Great Pyramids. Onions were even placed in the tombs of royalty as tribute to the gods in the afterlife.
The Gauls believed onions could predict the weather, holding that onions with many layers signaled the coming of a harsh winter.
An essential cooking ingredient since the Middle Ages, the onion has become one of the most universal flavoring ingredients, serving as the base for just about any dish.
The onion is a biennial vegetable that is cultivated as an annual and is made up of numerous concentric layers of juicy white leaves, which are covered by thin layers of a paper-like membrane.
Onions vary in size, shape, color and flavor, with climate and temperature largely responsible for the level of ‘bite’ to the taste. Spanish and Vidalia onions have the mildest flavor, while red onions are usually the sweetest.
A rich source of potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B6, onions are said to prevent scurvy, to be mildly diuretic, possess antibiotic properties, and act as a stimulant, as well as helping to treat gallstones and rheumatism. Whew!
Look for onions that have a dry, crisp outer skin and a small neck with no greens sprouting from the top (an indication the onion is less than fresh). There should be no signs of mold or soft spots. Onions store best outside the fridge to preserve their flavor, as cold refrigerators compromise the ‘sugars’ in the onion. We keep ours in a bowl on a cool windowsill so they stay fresh.
Onions can be used in any number of recipes, from soups and sautés to onions and salads. Baked, boiled, steamed, stuffed, fried…onions are worthy of every shred of legend.
Here is one of my favorite onion recipes.
Onion Rings with Wasabi Dipping Sauce