Cooking to me is all about relationship; how we interact with and experience our food as cooks (and eaters) has a huge impact on its taste as well as our health. One surprising ingredient that embodies this idea is onions.
Cultures all over the world use the onion for all purposes in cooking, yet the number of onion-based dished is relatively scarce. With the exceptions of the onion ring and French onion soup…there really aren’t too many dishes (do onion rings count as a “dish”?) where the onions is prominently displayed as a miracle of food. Most of the time, onions are taken for granted. They’re thrown blindly into sauces and sprinkled on pizzas, where their wonder can hardly be appreciated.
What’s worse than ignoring how unique and important onions are for making our favorite foods taste is that most people don’t even know how healthy onions actually are (when’s the last time your mother said to “finish your onions or no dessert?”). Onions (especially the red ones) contain loads of antioxidants and flavenoids, the same powerful compounds found in coffee and blueberries that help fight free radicals and promote cell health. They’ve also been proven to help boost HDL (good cholesterol) and lower blood pressure. Added bonus: they’re easy to find at all times of year, which makes them inexpensive food-boosters, and can often be found at locally,,,also they’re delicious!
It’s time to celebrate the onion and put them in the spot light for a change! Here are my favorite way to cook (and eat!) red onions. They’re wicked easy and flavorful ways to enhance the experience any meal and appreciate the diversity of this simple ingredient.
1. Roasted: This is perfect for anyone with a gas stove, but will also work on the grill, over hot coals, or in a fireplace. Start by cutting off the ends/stems of the onion and peeling it. If your onion is on the bigger side you can cut in in half but for small onions this isn’t necessary. Simply wrap the onion in aluminum foil, rub it with a few drops of olive oil (to prevent it from burning too much), and place it on your gas range (or grill, coals, or fireplace) over medium-high heat. rotate the foil packet every few minutes to get an even char. WARNING: Packet will be pot so use tongs to a hot mitt! If you enjoy a little burnt flavor to your onions like I do, rotate less often. When it’s cooked to your liking, open the foil and let it cool. The same technique also works for garlic (except keep the peel on). The rest is up to you! I love adding this to baba ganoush, chicken salad, felafel, and hummus.
2. Caramelized: This required some patience, but it well worth the wait! Start by melting 1 tablespoon of butter into 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Then slice any type of onion you like (red, yellow, white, sweet, boiler…anything!) and cook them in the butter/oil mixture over medium heat sprinkle with a pint of sea salt and stir occasionally. Onions will be caramelized in about 20 minutes (depending on how thick you cut the slices). You can tell they’re done when the slices look shriveled and translucent. Red onions will look dark purple, and white/yellow onions will look light brown. Feel free to taste to make sure they’re done. These are truly delicious! I usually add them to cream sauces over pasta, but my favorite is when I add grilled cheese sandwiches with Swiss cheese, portobella mushrooms, and basil. Yum!
3. With Fruit: Sounds crazy, tastes delicious. The natural spiciness and zest of red onions makes them a great counterpart to sweet tropical fruits. (NB: Use only red onions for this!)When I think of this combination I always think of my mother. She went to Peru a few years ago and raved about her favorite new food that she tried there: ceviche. Traditionally including raw seafood and citrus, ceviche is a refreshing and healthy dish prefect for summer. I love adding this concept to salsas, salads, and fish. It works best with tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, but would also work nicely with oranges and grapefruits. Using whatever onion:fruit ratio you like, add a dressing of lime juice and chili pepper and prepare your taste buds for a lovely South American Vacation!
4. Stuffed: Every year for Christmas my family makes stuffed mushrooms, and every year we have lots of filling left over. While mushroom are probably my favorite vegetable ever, the ones big enough to stuff are often expensive and they spoil very quickly. Another perfect opportunity for the onion to shine! Begin by removing the ends and peel from the onion (any kind will do) and slice in half lengthwise. Peel away the layers to each half so that you have nice big onions cups. Fill with whatever you like, drizzle with olive oil, and bake in the over at about 400 degrees until the onions cups are soft (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle with some fresh lemon juice and enjoy!