HUMBLE onions are part of the allium family of vegetables and herbs, which also includes chives, garlic, scallions, and leeks. Allium vegetables have been cultivated for centuries for their characteristic, pungent flavours and for their medicinal properties. Onions can vary in size, shape, colour, and flavour.
The Romans took onions to Europe when they made their way across the continent and the Pilgrims brought onions to the US.
It’s a magical vegetable in that it’s flavour is completely transformed depending on the mode of preparation. Eat it raw and its harsh, it's flavour will be sharp and pungent, and the texture will be crisp and crunchy. Raw red onions are especially good in salads. You can remove some of their astringent flavour by soaking them in cold water before adding them to the dish.
Take them one step further by sautéing in oil and they become less harsh and more succulent and sweet, take them another step and cook them longer, they become caramelised, they are revered in this manner for their aromatic sweetness.
All cuisines use onions in one way or the other. Here in the Caribbean they are a main ingredient in our sofritos, the frying of the aromatics in oil before the addition of the other ingredients. In south American cooking they are used uncooked in salsas, salads, ceviche,but also cooked much the same way as we do.
In Indian cuisine raw onions are first blended to a paste with other aromatics before cooking, this forms the base of many curries in which they impart flavour and also thicken the sauce. Onions are also fried until they are super-dry, crisp and dark amber in colour.
This is used to garnish biryanis and other rice dishes. In fact these fried onions are so popular they are available for sale commercially.
The French use caramelised onions with tomatoes and anchovies as the topping for their famous pizza: the pissaladerie. Our French Caribbean neighbours use them and as a topping for their caramelised onion tarts.
Deep-fried in batter they become irresistible fried onion rings. Crispy-fried, they are a very important ingredient in the Portuguese salted cod, potato and onion casserole.
Each country has a different application of the onion from raw to browned, and each application brings with it a specific flavour profile to the relevant recipe, too many to mention in this article. But the next time you see an onion, a simple, humble brown onion, respectfully choose one with a tight skin and firm body. I know I can’t live without them, can you?
Here are some of my favourite ways to enjoy the mighty onion.
2 large onions, peeled and sliced ¼-inch thick, rings separated
1¼ cups all- purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp celery salt
½ tsp paprika
1 cup milk
1 cup dried bread crumbs
Oil to fry
Place flour, baking powder, salt and seasonings in a plate.
Dip the onion rings into flour and shale and place on another plate.
Combine the remaining g flour with milk and whisk to a smooth batter.
Dip each ring into the batter, then into crumbs, place on a wire rack.
Heat oil in a deep pot and fry onion rings until golden, drain.
French onion tartlets
A French Caribbean specialty
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups flour
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup ice cold water
In a bowl of a food processor add flour, salt, herbs and butter, process for 10 seconds until mixture resembles fine crumbs, add water and combine.
Remove and bring dough together with your hands, refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Roll out dough to about ¼-inch thickness and stamp out 3-inch circles. place on a lined baking tray and refrigerate.
For the filling:
3 lbs onion peeled and sliced
4 tbs olive oil
¼ cup French thyme
2 tbs evaporated milk
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400F
Heat oil in a sauté pan, add onions and cook until tender on a low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring often.
Add thyme and cook for a few minutes more.
Stir in milk and cook until creamy, remove and cool.
Spoon cooled filling onto pastry rounds and bake for 15 minutes, sprinkle with cheese and bake for 5 minutes more.
2 cups basmati rice, washed and soaked in water for 20 minutes, drained
1 tsp saffron threads, toasted and steeped in one cup warm water
3 onions, peeled
4 cloves garlic
1 inch piece ginger, chopped
2 tbs blanched and slivered almonds
3 tbs water
2 tbs cashew nuts
3 tbs raisins
4 to 6 tbs vegetable oil
11/2 lbs mixed veg, carrots, cauliflower, potato etc
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 inch cinnamon stick
Thinly slice 2 onions, set aside.
Place one onion into a food processor or blender; add garlic, ginger and 2 tbs almonds.
And water, process to a paste.
Meanwhile heat some oil in a frying pan, fry cashews until golden, remove then fry raisins until they begin to pop, remove for garnish.
Now add some more oil and fry onion slices until dark brown and crisp, this will take a while.
Remove and drain.
Now, heat 2 tbs oil in a large sauté pan, or shallow pan, add garlic and ginger paste, stir and fry until medium brown in colour.
Add vegetables to pan and stir and combine, add yogurt and some salt stir and fry.
Place cloves, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne into a spice mill, process to a fine powder.
Now add all this to the vegetables, add the rice and stir to coat well with spices.
Add 1 cup water with saffron threads and 1¼ cup additional water.
Simmer for 15 minutes.
Check and fluff, stir in onions, and decorate with raisins and cashews.
Wendy’s Cooking Classes
Pastelle making workshop
16 November, 9-12.
San Fernando, Call 357-0927