By: Mark R. Vogel
Onions are an indispensable commodity in cuisines the world over. They are highly versatile, lending themselves to a variety of preparations and cooking methods. Onions are underground bulbs related to the lily family. Choose ones that are firm with no soft spots and store them in a cool, dry place. Do not refrigerate your onions, (with the exception of leeks and scallions), unless there is an unused portion, which should be wrapped in plastic first. The sooner you use it the better. Use a very sharp knife to cut your onions and make sure your blade is partially imbedded before applying full pressure. Their moist, smooth exterior is ideal for sliding that dull blade right into your unwitting fingers.
So why do they make you cry?
When you pierce an onion you cut its cellular network. A series of sulfur-based compounds are released that instantly combine and recombine in a lightening fast succession of chemical reactions. Sulfonic acid is given off and triggers the tear response when you breathe it in. Sorry you asked?
To highlight the onion's diversity, below are four recipes, each with a different type of onion, and a different cooking technique, (one not cooked at all).
BAKED STUFFED ONIONS
Two large Spanish onions, peeled and cut in half horizontally.
Two oz. bread crumbs
One tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
One tablespoon 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 onion until they start to soften. Remove the onion and scoop out a hole in the center. Do not penetrate all the way through. Leave a base for the stuffing. Also, do not scoop too wide a hole or the onion will lose its structure. Mix the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Chop the onion you scooped out and mix it with the bread crumbs. 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. (Calorie counters: skip the cheese and use chicken broth instead of oil to moisten the breadcrumbs)
One pint chicken stock
One oz. butter
One and a half tablespoons parsley, chopped (or other herbs if you prefer)
Salt & pepper to taste
Trim the root end of the leeks but not completely. Leave enough for the leek to stay in tact. Then 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 them under running water to remove all the grit in-between the leaves.
Place the leeks in a large skillet and add the chicken stock, butter, 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. (Calorie counters: Skip the butter and use low fat chicken broth).
Traditional onion rings, move over. Garnish your next dish with these scrumptious delectables. Simply take a bunch of shallots, peel them, and slice them thinly crosswise. Take some all-purpose flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Dip the shallot slices in milk and then dredge in the flour.
Place them in a strainer and bang off the excess flour. Drop them in 350 degree vegetable oil. They will cook quickly so keep an eye on them. As soon as they're golden brown, remove them from the oil, drain, and sprinkle with additional salt. For another delicious alternative, broil halved shallots right in the pan with your steak. They will pick up some of the steak's juices as well as bring some of their own flavor to the party.
GREEN ONION DRESSING
One batch of scallions
One teaspoon Dijon mustard
Four teaspoons Champagne vinegar, (Ok you can substitute plain white vinegar)
One small garlic clove
One teaspoon kosher salt Half cup extra virgin olive oil.
Rinse the scallions, trim the root end, and then roughly chop them. Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a food processor and puree. Then add the oil in a slow, thin stream with the processor on until it is incorporated. This dressing will go well with most salads but it will especially enliven blander greens like iceberg or Boston lettuce.