The Many Ways to Enjoy Onions

A diet rich in vegetables and fruit is crucial to a healthy lifestyle.  Onions are one of the most versatile vegetables.  They can be eaten raw, sautéed, roasted, marinated or grilled.  Onions add layers of flavor and nutrition to your meals.  Here are several ways you can prepare onions:

Use raw onion in salads, sandwiches, burgers, tacos, homemade salsas and relishes for unmatched flavor and crispness.

Marinate onions in balsamic vinegar for salads and dressings or as a sandwich topping.

Sauté or caramelize onions for a flavorful, yet quick and easy, side dish or topping for chicken, fish and other meats. Serve alone or with a medley of other vegetables, rice, or pasta to make a vegetarian main dish.

Put onions on the grill to spice up the next barbecue.  Just slice onions and brush with olive oil, then grill over medium coals until tender and slightly charred. Onions can also be used on kabobs or tossed with herbs and served over grilled meat.

Take a whole peeled onion, hollow it out and fill with chili, rice, pasta, meat, or vegetables and bake for a delicious one-dish meal.

Place onions in a roasting bag with meat or other vegetables or in a favorite slow cooker recipe for a home-cooked meal with extra savory, mouthwatering flavor.

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Faster Caramelized Onions with Baking Soda

Yes, you can caramelize onions quicker!

 

Nothing beats the sweet flavor of caramelized onions, but the reward is not without a little effort. Truly caramelized onions that are dark brown and soft with a flavor as sweet as candy take around 45 minutes to make — sometimes longer. They also need to be watched closely.

Since not everyone has that kind of time, when we heard about a short-cut, we decided we had to try it. Apparently, the trick to getting onions to caramelize more quickly is to add baking soda.

The idea left us both curious and a little skeptical. Caramelized onions are a specialty around here, and we are always willing to put in the extra time for all that deliciousness. But who are we to deny others from saving time in the kitchen?

Are you curious about this time-saving trick, too? Read on to find out how it went in our test kitchen.

Why baking soda?

First, it’s important to understand what is happening during the caramelization process and how baking soda is influencing it. As onions cook, they release their moisture and cells begin to break down, causing them to soften. Sugars are released and as they heat up, both caramelization and a common chemical reaction in food occurs, called a Maillard reaction or Maillard browning. Both of these create the dark golden brown color we associate with caramelized onions.

When you add baking soda during cooking it changes the pH which increases the Maillard reaction causing the onions to brown more quickly. The higher pH also causes the onions to soften more quickly, which we cover below when we discuss the texture.

How we tested the trick

It’s important not to use too much baking soda as it can change the flavor of the onions and give them an unappealing chemical-like taste. Most recipes call for a pinch, but a pinch is up for interpretation so we wanted to define it. We also read to limit the amount to ¼ teaspoon per pound of onions. In the end, we decided to err on the side of caution and added an ⅛ of a teaspoon to 1 pound of yellow onions with the recipe below.

1 pound yellow onions, sliced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

⅛ teaspoon baking soda

We added both the onions and the butter to the pan at the same time and turned the burner to medium heat. We started our timer at this point and continued to stir until the butter melted, then stirred the onions often as they caramelized.

 

The results

Our onions were soft and caramelized in about 13 minutes. Not too far off from suggestions we found around the Internet that it would take 10 minutes, and a lot less than the typical 45 minutes when not using baking soda. That being said, there were pros and cons to this quicker method.

Below are images of the onions as they cooked. Working clockwise, it starts with the onions just a couple minutes after the butter had completely melted. Then at about six minutes, followed by eight minutes, and finally at 10 minutes.

Color

The onions took on a yellow hue almost immediately after cooking and maintained a bit of an orange color throughout the process. At 10 minutes, they finally started to show signs of turning brown versus orange and at that point we continued to 13 minutes to obtain the darker golden brown color you see in the final images.

Flavor

No chemical taste with these onions. They were delicious. Maybe even a little sweeter than using the longer method.

Texture

The onions dissolved a bit more and became creamy, almost like an onion jam. This was expected with the higher pH and it can be good or bad, depending on how you plan to use the onions.

For blending the onions into dips or spreading onto a sandwich, the caramelizing with baking soda provides the perfect end result. The soft texture allows them to blend right in with other ingredients and they are nearly spreadable.

If you are hoping for visual appeal and a bit of bite to the onions, the quick caramelized method probably isn’t the way to go. For example, if you want to put them on a pizza or pile them on a bite-size appetizer.

Something else to note

The onions did make a bigger mess in the pan. The sides became very dark as the onions cooked. We highly recommend using a non-stick pan to make clean-up a bit easier.

Will we use the quick method again?

Yes! Especially when we are in a hurry to put together a recipe with caramelized onions that calls for blending the onions into a dish with other ingredients. We’ll stick with the longer, traditional method for our caramelized onion for pizzas and other topping purposes, though.

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Ingenious onion hack allows quicker risottos

Time is always nipping at your heals these days, and cooking with onions isn’t always so forgiving. Sometimes, the clock makes all the difference in the outcome of a great dish.

Culinary instructor KateLynn Dunning, who teaches cooking at Platt College in Tulsa, Okla., has ways around the often time-consuming onion in some of her favorite dishes.

“We professional chefs rely on onions. Onions are in our base for everything — stocks, sauces, soups. Everything I teach my students to sauté starts with minced onions and garlic. I meal-prep every week at home and dice at least 3 large yellow onions and 1 head of garlic just to have on hand so when I cook during the week days, that is already done.”

Dunning has devised the ultimate onion hack with her “Onion Butter” recipe, which she uses to prepare for cooking classes that cannot take the time it takes, for example, to sauté onions in butter for risotto or pilafs.

“Sometimes … line cooks or students will not sauté the onions enough, making for crunchy onions in risottos,” Dunning said. And that’s not good.

Dunning suggests prepping ahead of time by poaching onions in butter for 1-2 hours until transluscent, allowing for a nice purée in the blender. Freeze for anytime cooking. Cooks can use 1- 2 tablespoons of the frozen mixture and use in a pot to sauté short grain rice (for risotto), long grain rice (for pilaf), lentils, quinoa, farro — any grain that typically is sautéed with onions and butter before adding a liquid, Dunning says.

“This cuts production time, and it allows a more mellow onion flavor that is close to caramelization but delicate,” Dunning says.

Try it!

Onion Butter

2-3 cups minced onion (small dice is also acceptable)

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Melt butter on low heat. Add onions, salt, and turn down heat. Slowly poach onions for 1-2 hours until translucent and falling apart. Puree in blender until smooth. Freeze and it will become solid in the refrigerator.

 

Risotto

1 Tablespoon of premade onion butter

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup of White Wine (NOT cooking wine; drinking wine)

3 cups of chicken stock

4 Tablespoons butter

4 Tablespoons Parmesano Reggiano (splurge and use the good stuff, TRUST ME)

 

Directions

Melt onion butter on medium-high heat. Toast rice in hot butter. Do not burn or let turn brown, just until the kernel has a bright, white pearl in the center with a translucent outside. Add wine and reduce to “au sec” or “almost dry.” It will look think and syrupy in the pan. Add the stock one cup at a time. Reduce the stock to au sec while storing before adding the second cup of stock. After the third addition reduces to au sec, turn off heat and stir in cold butter and Parmesan cheese.

Dunning offers some other helpful onion hacks:

  • She likes to make up some sofrito a Latin version of “mirepoix” or “trinity.” Sofrito is 50 percent onions, 25 percent peppers, 25 percent tomatoes diced. It can be combined and held in a Tupperware dish or Ziplocs and added by the tablespoon for any salsas, Latin soups, enchilada sauces, mole, etc. Store up to a week in the refrigerator; do not freeze.

 

  • “White Mire Poix” is fun because it’s so similar to mire poix with an air of elitism, Dunning says. It is 25 percent onions, 25 percent leeks, 25 percent celery (or celery root), and 25 percent parsnips. It’s meant to not add color to your stocks, sauces, soups, and bases if you want them to remain white and “delicate.” This will last up to a week in the refrigerator.

 

 

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There is a pain-free way to cut onions

While the best part about onions is the flavor they infuse into any dish, for many, getting there is quite the battle.

Cutting onions could be one of the most dreaded jobs in the kitchen — perhaps besides stirring a big bowl of stiff chocolate chip cookie dough. Sometimes, however, the ends DO justify the means.

Cutting onions doesn’t have to be so bad. Try the tips in this blog to reduce the tears.

American columnist Elizabeth Robbins Pennell said it best: “Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair.”

Being loaded with all sorts of good nutrients, cancer fighting agents and great flavor additions doesn’t come without its hitches. For the onion, the sulfur compounds within it mix with its alliinase enzymes, which brings on the tears. Each type of onion has a different concentration of these sulfur compounds, making their tear-inducing sting a bit different.

There are ways to reduce those tears — unless you really just need to let it all out and have a good cry.

Here are some basic tips to help you out:

» First, chill your onions at least 30 minutes before cutting them. Refrigeration will slow down the chemical reactions. Carucci advises a couple of options: grabbing the all-important goggles for those large jobs; and storing onions at refrigerator temperature. That’s a tip from Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook. He stated that an “an onion at refrigerator temperature causes tearing only 25 percent as quickly as an onion at room temperature.” Couldn’t hurt to try. And for one more option, Carucci has known people to hold a piece of bread in their mouths while chopping onions to deflect the fumes.

» Be sure to use a sharp, straight-edge knife when cutting onions. That minimizes onion cell damage, thus creating fewer tear-producing compounds.

» Finally, cut the root end of the onion last, as it generally has the highest concentration of tear-producing compounds.

There are several ways to cut an onion.

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How to eat your 22 pounds a year in onions

If you hadn’t heard, Americans on average eat about 22 pounds of onions per person per year. That kind of onion consumption helps keep a body healthy by providing necessary vitamins and nutrients to ward off heart disease and cancers and also keep the gut working at optimum speed.

An easy way to get your 22 pounds a year in is this: for one week a month, buy 2 pounds of onions (that’s roughly 4 onions in your cart). Mix them up by color, keep them all the same — every onion is good for you. Since cut onions have a refrigerator shelf life of about seven days, you can be rest-assured you will not have to waste anything if you set out a good plan. (This also is a great way to incorporate clean eating into your routine).

For that one week, use your onions strategically to use all of them and reduce spoilage, and get the vital nutrition your body needs.

First, halve one onion. Dice one half to add and store in the refrigerator. Use small doses of diced onions throughout the week to add spice and flavor to omelets or frittatas or tacos or salads.

Get your 22 pounds of onions in each year with a strong strategy.

Take the other half and slice up for your lunchtime sandwiches. Onion slices go great with deli roast beef and turkey.

Use the second onion to make a wonderful Basil, Walnut and Onion Pesto, which will go great on those lunchtime sandwiches as a spread, or with crackers for an afternoon or evening snack.

This Basil, Walnut Onion Pesto is a great addition to sandwiches.

The third and fourth onions can easily be incorporated into dinners. Cooking two full meals for the week will give plenty of leftovers for the rest of the week to minimize your time in the kitchen. A couple of dinner ideas include Turkey and Onion Meatball Kabobs or High Protein Quinoa Salad

Or, go simple. Cut your fourth onion into large chunks and sautée with red or green peppers to garnish your protein (chicken, shrimp or steak).

Cut large chucks of onions and peppers, and sauté for a good addition to any protein.

Two pounds of onions, massive amounts of flavor and all the protection your body needs to keep it healthy — in just one week.

 

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