Peeling Back the Layers
Let’s see if you can guess this vegetable….
This vegetable has been around for thousands of years. It is one of the most cultivated vegetables of all time and can be traced back to its origin in Asia. Ancient civilizations came to rely on this vegetable as it was easy to store, easy to grow in any soil or weather environment and preserved nicely in the winter months without spoilage. This vegetable prevented thirst, was a great source of energy and had many medicinal properties. Because of all of the uses of this vegetable, it was often used in religious ceremonies. In fact, ancient Egypt began using this vegetable to symbolize eternity, endless life and it became a part of burial ceremonies for Pharaohs. At last count, this vegetable has 21 different varieties.
Now you either love or really dislike this vegetable. I myself, have a love/hate relationship with this vegetable. Of course I need to use it in cooking, as it is used in almost every dish. I love the aroma and the flavour, however, this vegetable DOES NOT LIKE ME!! I won’t get into the details.
Have you been able to guess what this vegetable is???????
Drum roll please……. You guessed it, it’s the ONION (picture may have given it away)! The onion is from the Allium family, a genus of monocotyledonous flowering plants. Allium contains over a hundred different species, including the family of onions, shallots, scallions, leeks and chives.
Enough with the history lesson, let’s move on to the onions I prefer!
Working with onions is not my favorite activity. As mentioned above, I use them in dishes to bring out the flavours and aromas of foods, but having to cut them and get the onion smell on my hands, I would rather not. Thank goodness my husband is always willing (well maybe not willing) to slice and dice them for me! And if you're lacking in the willing husband department and want to save the favor, get yourself some gloves.
Onions vary in sizes, colors and flavours, ranging from the very strong (need a breath mint or 2 or 3) to the very mild and will define how your culinary creation turns out. They are the backbone to thousands of dishes. Flavours can range from very sweet to an earthy flavour. I use a variety of onions, however, the top four onions I use are, brown or yellow, white, red and scallion (aka-green onion).
BROWN OR YELLOW ONION
The brown onion (or yellow, depending on which part of the country you are from) is considered to be the culinary workhorse! If a recipe calls for a certain type of onion and your local market doesn’t have it, pick up a brown onion to use in its place. You can always tell a brown/yellow onion by its thick brown, yellowy skin!
Brown onions have a very strong aroma and sharp taste when raw, however, once they begin cooking, they mellow in taste, but still remain very flavorful. They also caramelize very easily and the longer you cook them, the sweeter they become. This onion is really an all-purpose onion of cooking and can be substituted for any onion!
The brown onion can be chopped, diced and sliced and be used in a variety of dishes. The best type of knife to use when cutting onions is an 8-inch serrated knife. This is the most efficient (and safest) way to cut an onion. My favorite knife is the Zwilling J.A Henckels 8” serrated knife. I have owned Henckel knives for over 20 years and they are still as sharp as when we received them as a wedding gift.
White onions have a flavor that is milder than its counterpart, the brown onion. It is sweeter and can be eaten raw. My father use to tell me stories of when he was a boy, going into the garden and picking white onions, sprinkling a little salt on them and eating them like an apple! To this day, that is not tempting to me at all!
White onions tend to be more tender and have a thinner papery skin. They can be cooked just like brown onions, but instead of slicing or dicing, mince them and use in chutneys or salsas. White onions are popular in Mexican cuisines and a great addition to Huevos Rancheros, refried beans, tacos and enchiladas. They have a crisp texture and a nice crunch to dice and throw into a salad. You can also thinly slice the onion and use on your favorite sandwich (maybe not on a PBJ, but who am I to judge?), or sprinkle over a pizza.
Aww… the red onion. One of my favorite onions (I have not tried all 21 varietals). I love the red onion, because it is beautiful and has a purple-ish color that will brighten up your favorite creation, and, purple is one of my go to colors as it is a mysterious color often associated with magic. It is crisp, spicy and delicious. It keeps its crunch, adds color to any dish, is easy to store and is available year round. Just as you would store the brown and white onion in a dry, cool, dark place, you would do the same with the red onion.
Red onions add so much flavor to sandwiches, they are especially delectable on a burger and amazing in a salad! Use red onions raw or in cold foods for the best flavors. Cooking them tends to wash out their color and lose the intensity of their wonderful essence. Want to add a little adventure to your culinary skills, add red onions to different types of salads and salsas, such as, mango or peach salsa. I make this heavenly watermelon salad that calls for red onions and served with a glazed pork tenderloin. (Recipe below) The mix of sweet watermelon and the spice of the red onion is happiness for your taste buds!
Another great way to use red onions is to pickle them. Pickled onions are a festive addition to use on hot dogs or hamburgers during a summer picnic or bar-b-que. Toss some pickled onions in your kale or Brussel sprouts salads to add a kick of flavor!
SCALLIONS (AKA – GREEN ONIONS)
Last but not least, another favorite, the scallion or as I call them, the green onion! Depending on which part of the country live in, you may call them scallions, salad onions or spring onions. This onion, I think, is one of the most versatile onions that can be used across many different dishes. It has a mild and peppery flavor, is often eaten raw dipped into some salt. I could use this onion in almost anything.
Green onions are used in a lot of Asian and Latin cuisines and because of their mild flavor, they are used in a great variety of dishes. The white ends of the onion have a much stronger flavor and are better cooked. The green straight leaves are very mild and are usually used raw, or as a garnish in soups, chili cheese fries, salads, dips, omelets, stir-fries and quesadillas to name a few. When a recipe calls for raw onions, I turn to these little guys, as the whole onion can be used!
Many people use a wooden cutting board when cutting their vegetables. I tend to use an acrylic cutting board as it is easier to sanitize and clean, just pop it into the dishwasher. I used a wooden cutting board for years, however, wood is hard to get cleaned and to sanitize away any bacteria. Wood also holds in all flavors of anything you have ever cut on it. When using cutting boards, I do like to have one that I use for vegetables, one for meats, one for fruit and one for cheeses. Whichever cutting board you prefer, you want to make sure that it is slip free. With all of the different types of counter tops available, there is nothing more annoying, or a safety hazard, as chopping away and the board slips out from under you! Check out our complete selection of cutting boards here>
There are so many uses for onions that it is hard for me to stop! The selection of onions to choose from is overwhelming! You can select onions from Bermuda, to boiling onions, to cocktail to Vidalia. All of these onions have a specific use from boiling, to sautéing, to be used in dips, pasta and onion rings. Their uses and flavors are endless!
Now let's get to that fantastic sweet and spicy salad I promised you!
Watermelon Tomato Salad with Red Onion
This is the watermelon salad I mentioned above. It uses my favorite red onions, and is simply divine. We use white balsamic vinegar because it is light in color and won’t “muddy” the color of the salad and watermelon. White balsamic vinegar is mild and sweet like traditional balsamic.
The use of Pecorino Romano is a little sharp and salty, which adds a nice flavor to the salad helping other flavors rise to the occasion! This is probably the easiest salad I have ever made!
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup baby arugula
- 1/4 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
- 12 ounces seedless watermelon, cut into thin triangle slices
- 1-ounce pecorino Romano cheese, shaved
Whisk together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients; toss gently.
This is a variation of the Cooking Light, August 2017 recipe
Here's a hearty ole' favourite, French Onion YUM! ahem...
French Onion Soup
This is French Onion Soup is one of the best I have made or tasted! A lot of ingredients, but very tasty and easy to make! Remember if you want to mellow the flavor of the onions, cook the onions long and slowly.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 large red onions, thinly sliced
- 2 large sweet onions (like Vidalia), thinly sliced
- 1 (48 fluid ounce) can chicken broth
- 1 (14 ounce) can beef broth
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 sprigs fresh parsley
- 1 sprig fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 4 thick slices French or Italian bread
- 8 slices Gruyere or Swiss cheese slices, room temperature
- 1/2 cup shredded Asiago or mozzarella cheese, room temperature
- 4 pinches paprika
- Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in salt, red onions and sweet onions. Cook 35 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are caramelized and almost syrupy. I use a 6.9 Liter or 7 QT. pot.
- Mix chicken broth, beef broth, red wine and Worcestershire sauce into pot. Bundle the parsley, thyme, and bay leaf with twine and place in pot. Simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and discard the herbs. Reduce the heat to low, mix in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep over low heat to stay hot while you prepare the bread.
- Preheat oven broiler. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet and broil 3 minutes, turning once, until well toasted on both sides. Remove from heat; do not turn off broiler.
- Arrange 4 large oven safe bowls or crocks on a rimmed baking sheet. Fill each bowl 2/3 full with hot soup. Top each bowl with 1 slice toasted bread, 2 slice Gruyere cheese and 1/4 of the Asiago or mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a little bit of paprika over the top of each one.
- Broil 5 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown. As it softens, the cheese will cascade over the sides of the crock and form a beautifully melted crusty seal. Serve immediately!
Thank you Jersey Tomato for the recipe, it's worth sharing!
The Classic Martini
Well call me a traditionalist, but my favorite cocktail is the classic martini. The classic martini screams class, a simpler life, the 1950’s when people got dressed up to go out on the town or out to dinner! It is the “3 martini lunch” where business deals were made. Though the martini probably began as a marketing ploy to sell gin in the 1950’s, or vodka in the 1970’s, it is still a favourite!
The Patton Martini!
- 1 1/2 oz Gin
- 1 splash Dry Vermouth
- 2 cocktail onions
- 2 olives
- 1 dash olive Juice
Mix gin, vermouth and olive juice in cocktail shaker with ice. shake, then immediately remove from ice into cocktail glass. garnish with onions and olives alternating on a toothpick.
Stay tuned for more on onions as we have not covered all of the onions, nor their health benefits. There will definitely be more to come on Onions and we will link subsequent onion blogs here.