Onions: A Frugal, Flavorful Ingredient

Onions: A Frugal, Flavorful Ingredient

Onions are a cook’s faithful sidekick. They’re the most versatile vegetable around and—although I’ve yet to see onion ice cream—they do get super sweet when caramelized, rendering them appropriate for any course or style of cooking. All-purpose onions are among the least expensive foods available year-round to add nutritional dimension to a healthy diet. Read on for ideas to utilize these bulbs in all kinds of cuisine.

Even Everyday Onions Are Jewels.

A staple in stocks, soups, and stews, onions can be sliced raw into salads, sautéed and added to sandwiches, diced and mixed into hamburger meat, roasted and served with roasted fish, grilled as part of a kebab, and even caramelized, then chopped and added to pancake or biscuit batter. Available in multiple colors (yellow, white, and red), sizes, and flavors, the everyday varieties are known as storage onions and are recognized for their pungency in the raw state, which miraculously turns sweet when cooked.

Specialty Onions: A Walk On The Wild Side.

Specialty onions can be broken down into two main categories: spring onions and designer onions. Springs lack a protective paper, yielding them fragile and perishable. These springtime treats are mild and ideally enjoyed raw. By contrast, designer onions do have the paper protection to allow for storage. These sweet onions, which include the Vidalia, Walla Walla, Cipollini, and Maui varieties, are mild, not due to excessive sugar content, but because of a diminished quantity of the acid that gives all-purpose onions their pungency (the stuff that drives you to tears). They represent specific geographic locations and are unique because of their terroir—just like with wine.

Practical Prevention.

To maximize life, store onions in a bag that allows for ventilation, in a cool, dark spot. Don’t store onions with potatoes, as they will absorb the moisture from the spuds and spoil. For long-term storage, wrap each onion individually in foil and refrigerate (cold onions are their own cure for the tears they inspire). Other suggestions for tear prevention while slicing: Use a super sharp knife, whistle while you work, wear sunglasses, chew gum; even put a sugar cube between your teeth!

Avoid Onions Occasionally.

Besides the restorative sniffle, onions are said to have therapeutic, antibacterial, antifungal, and loads of other beneficial properties. There is one scenario, however, where you should be wary of the consumption of onions—in a business dining setting. One of “Goldie’s Golden Rules” for strategic dining is to avoid french onion soup at a business meal. Consuming this clumsy course is even worse than trying to eat a banana split daintily. In the 43-page manual just published by UBS detailing how to impress customers, onions top the "don’t" list!

Caramelized Onion Pancakes.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Serves: 3 to 4
Cost: $1.75

2 tsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled, halved, and sliced thin
4 tsp sugar, divided
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking flour
½ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp butter, melted

Melt 2 tsp butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté, stirring often, for about 8 minutes. Add 1 tsp sugar and continue to cook until onions are golden and very soft. About 6 minutes. Cool and chop onions. Wipe out sauté pan with paper towel.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Add ½ tbsp melted butter to sauté pan over low heat.

Combine egg, buttermilk, and 1 ½ tbsp butter. Slowly stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add in chopped onions. Turn heat to medium and drop batter by generous tablespoons into hot pan. Turn when pancake tops are covered with bubbles and the sides are brown.

Makes 18 pancakes.


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