Post #545 For Love of Onions

August 25, 2017 at 2:25 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I never liked onions too much as I was growing up.  We had them all the time cuz mom and dad both loved them.  Mom put them in everything, to the point where her salmon patties didn’t taste like salmon, her meatloaf didn’t taste like hamburger, and her chili tasted like spicy hot onions.  Her spaghetti didn’t taste like oregano or basil, but mostly like tomatoes and onions with pasta.  So I ate meals that tasted a lot like onions.  It just occurred to me that she never made onion soup.  Now, I gotta wonder why.  As I got older, I found that onions have their place in the hierarchy of cooking, and I’ve learned to like them quite a bit.  Not as much as my parents, but more than I did as a kid.

Growing up, we had yellow onions and spring onions, or scallions.  Imagine my surprise when I learned there were more than just those.

This is not an encyclopedic chart of all the varieties of onions out there, and it will miss your favorite onion, I’m sure, but it shows it all for me.  There are a couple that I use all the time that aren’t on this chart, but I’ll talk about them a little just the same.  And if there’s one I miss, please let me know.  I love learning new ingredients.

I kept using onions when I left mom and dad’s house because I followed recipes and the recipes always called for them.  Then I started being a cook and playing with flavors and left the onions out.  Then I started putting them back in because I discovered two things.  One, I missed the flavor of the onions; and two, onions provide more than just flavor.

When Partner/Spouse came along, he introduced me to two different onion types I’d never looked at before.  I became addicted to one of them, but we use both of them all the time.  The first one he showed me was the shallot.  It’s a small onion bulb with a purplish paper skin and has the flavor of both onions and garlic.  Anytime you want a mild, subtle flavor from the onion/garlic family, but don’t want to play with them, the shallot is the way to go.  It’s mild flavor lends well to its being eaten raw, but also goes remarkably well in soups.  Just add it five minutes before serving.  It’s pungency will quickly cook out.  It’s remarkable in sauces and gravies.  They come in many sizes, but I tend to stick to the smaller ones because they’re more strongly flavored.

The second one is the one I became addicted to, the leek.

It’s very versatile.  You can see it has two basic parts (once you cut the roots off), the white part and the green part.  The green part is very tough so you want to use the inner green part since it’s more tender.  I usually cut the roots off, slice it down the center to clean it out well (due to its growing process to keep the white part large there’s a lot of dirt in them), then slice them into thin circles and sauté in butter.  Once in a while, I’ll add them to soups.  I’ve seen some people cut them lengthwise in thick strips and boil them to use as replacement for noodles.  I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m sure it would be delicious.

Scallions are one most people are familiar with.  Growing up, I only ever had them in salad.  They provided a bitter, spicy bite to complement the blandness of the lettuce, and the tanginess of the tomatoes.  It wasn’t until I learned about leeks that scallions made sense.  But when I was learning to cook Asian recipes is when I learned what the scallion could truly be.  It can take center stage in a soup or a crispy pancake.  In Africa I once had a dish called Beef with Three Onions where the three onions were all scallions handles differently and it was truly superb.

The first Christmas that Partner/Spouse and I were an official couple, he bought me Mastering the Art of French Cooking by the inimitable Julia Child.  And like nearly everyone who’s seen “Julie and Julia”, the first recipe I tried was her famous Boeuf Bourguignon.  Okay, Beef and Burgundy.  It’s a beef stew but dressed up with a ton of ingredients, each requiring it’s own recipe.  That’s when I learned about pearl onions.  The only pearl onion I’d seen were pickled and in martini glasses.  Usually submerged in a martini.  But for this recipe, they had to be skinned then browned lightly in butter.  I didn’t know the “trick” to skinning a pearl onion so I had to do it the hard way.  What a pain in the ass!  But totally worth it once the stew was done.  The trick to skinning them?  Cut a small X in the root end of each onion, then submerge them for about ten seconds in boiling water.  Remove them and submerge in ice water immediately, then use a paring knife at the X end to slide the skin off.  Exactly the same method for peeling the skin off a tomato.

A week or so ago we were sitting down to eat dinner.  I don’t recall what protein we were having, but I’d made Smash Potatoes, and we both wanted a “salad” type of vegetable.  We didn’t have many fresh veggies, and certainly no lettuce at that point.  I had a tomato, which P/S doesn’t like raw (I know, but I still love him), and there was a bag of onion, which I won’t eat raw (I know, but he still loves me.)  So in my bowl, I had tomato chunks with grated cheese and sunflower seeds with dressing, and he had onion rings with grated cheese and sunflower seeds with dressing.  And it was good.

Long ago, I was making dinner for my family.  We were having tacos, family style.  What that meant was fixing up the ingredients to create your own tacos and placing them all on the table in separate bowls.  There was a stack of cooked corn tortillas at hand so each person could build their own when they wanted to.  I had put out a bowl of browned hamburger, one of grated cheddar cheese, one of lettuce, one of tomatoes, one of pico de gallo, a bottle of Tabasco sauce, and a bottle of some other blazingly hot sauce, and a bowl of refried beans.  Next to mom’s plate, I put a small bowl with half an onion diced into small pieces.

Then began the feeding frenzy.  Five people building their dinners at the same time.  Elbows flying, “pardon me”s at the ready, I always marveled that no one lost an eye.  After the first rush, things calmed down as everyone chewed and enjoyed their first taco.  Between bites, conversation about the day ensued, until suddenly mom said:

“My family loves me.”  She had a small, shy smile as she said it.

We all looked at her for a moment, puzzled.

Then dad asked why.

“I’ve got a bowl of onions chopped up here and no one else likes them raw.”

Every cook in the world knows that feeling.  If chopping up a small bowl of onions was all it took, she was going to have a small bowl of onions to go in her cereal if she wanted them.

So, onions.  That’s what it took.

I don’t like onions.  But someone who loves me is making sure I have mushrooms for my birthday dinner.

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