published Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Make onions the star of the meal

A great side dish of onions packs in the flavor with sauteed walnuts, brown sugar and red and yellow peppers served on top of a roasted onion.
A great side dish of onions packs in the flavor with sauteed walnuts, brown sugar and red and yellow peppers served on top of a roasted onion.
Photo by Tim Barber.

Sure, they can make you cry. They can make your breath a bit sketchy. And they can keep your hands pungent even after frequent washings.

"Pity the poor onion," said Carol White, a Napa Valley, Calif.-based food writer and editor, in her blog, "Poetry of Food." "It gets such bad press."

But the onion is a friend of every cook and many distinguishing eaters.

Most people think of the bulb vegetable as a flavoring for main dishes, other vegetables and soups, but, given the chance, it also can be the star of the meal.

"Being a chef by trade, my favorite vegetable is the onion," said Larry Kelly on his blog, Boston Mountain Chef. "It is as essential to cooking as salt and pepper. Without it, as a savory ingredient, the world would be a very sad place."

Recently, the Times Free Press asked its Facebook fans to submit recipes for onion main dishes or onion side dishes.

Two mentioned blooming onions but weren't thinking of the Outback Steakhouse type. Instead, they had in mind to peel it, scoop out a bit from the middle, replace it with a bouillon cube and a pat of butter, cover it in foil and grill or bake it.

The result is a tender, flavorful side dish that still tastes like an onion but doesn't have all the sharpness.

"Yummm," said Chris Tapley, one of the recipe providers.

"I love to bloom the onion," said Facebook fan Denise Collins, "then drizzle with olive oil and Italian seasoning. Then cover and bake in the oven for at least an hour until it is caramelized. Yummy!"

Reader Shelli Shelton Cody provided a simple, delicious onion dip for chips or vegetables if there's no time to make something complicated or run to the store. It has only three ingredients: onion, cheese and mayonnaise.

The result, she said, is "bubbly yum yum."

If the flavor's not enough to entice more use of the onion, consider the health benefits.

"They are a great source of allicin, like garlic, which helps lower cholesterol and thins the blood to promote better circulation," Kelly wrote in his blog. "Onions aid in digestion by stimulating the liver, bladder and pancreas. Early settlers squeezed the juice of the onion into wine to create a diuretic that cleansed toxins from the body. Onions were also noted for their healing power with infections and burns. Onions are a great source of potassium and vitamin C."

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com@ClintCooperCTFP.

Grilled Blooming Onion

1 onion

1 bouillon cube

Butter, to taste

For each onion, cut out a portion of the middle. Put in a bouillon cube and a little butter. Wrap in foil, and place it on the grill.

-- Chris Tapley

Vidalia Onion Dip

Chopped onions

Shredded Swiss cheese

Mayonnaise

Combine equal parts chopped onions, shredded Swiss cheese and mayonnaise. Mix together and bake at 350 F.

-- Shelli Shelton Cody

Fried Apples and Onions

6 medium onions, sliced and separated into rings

2 tablespoons butter

6 medium tart red apples, cut into 1/4-inch wedges

3 tablespoons brown sugar

In a large skillet, cook the onions in butter over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Top with apples; sprinkle with brown sugar. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Yield: 8 servings.

-- Jere Young

Great Side Dish of Onions

1 cup balsamic vinegar

2 large sweet onions, cut in half crosswise

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup walnut halves

1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup chopped red and yellow peppers

1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper

Bring vinegar to boil in cast-iron skillet on medium heat; remove from heat, and place onions cut side down in skillet. Bake at 400 F for 50 to 60 minutes until tender and vinegar is very dark brown.

Melt butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. Add walnuts, and cook 2 minutes while stirring often. Add sugar, peppers and red pepper; cook until bubbly. Sprinkle mixture over the onion halves, and top with a drizzling of the vinegar.

-- Jere Young

Crunchy Vidalia Casserole

2 large Vidalia onions, sliced

1/2 cup crushed barbecue-flavored potato chips, divided

1 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into pieces, divided

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Paprika and cayenne pepper, to taste

In a greased casserole dish, layer slices of one onion, 1/4 cup chips, 1/2 cup cheese and pieces of 1 tablespoon butter. Repeat layers. Mix milk into soup. Pour over the onion mixture. Season with paprika and pepper. Bake at 350 F for 30 to 40 minutes or until bubbly.

-- Robin McMahon

Caramelized Onion Tart

2 large onions

Olive oil or butter

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (plus more for garnish)

Puff pastry sheet

2 ounces goat cheese

Slice and slowly sauté two large onions in a little olive oil or butter, plus salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, until onions are a deep golden color. Heat oven to 450 F. Lay a sheet of frozen puff pastry on a Silpat-topped baking sheet, pricking all over with a fork except for a half-inch margin. Crumble 2 ounces goat cheese over all but the margin. Evenly distribute caramelized onions over the cheese, and bake 15 minutes or until golden. Garnish with more fresh thyme. Serve as a main dish with a salad or cut into hors d'oeuvres-size squares.

-- Robin McMahon

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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