published Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Side Orders: Vidalias heading to market

Vidalia onions are harvested in Lyons, Ga.
Vidalia onions are harvested in Lyons, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Attention onion lovers: Vidalia season is here. Winter's snow and ice, which affected a large part of Georgia, missed the area known for growing the South's favorite sweet onion. And, according to the Vidalia Onion Committee, this year marks a new beginning for Vidalias, which are the state's official vegetable. The decision was made months ago to place a mandatory packing date. That date, which was Monday, ensures that any Vidalias that hit the markets will be as fresh as possible.

"Our growers are committed to assuring consumers that, when the famous Vidalia sweet onion is available, they are getting the very best. That's what we strive for," says Bob Stafford, director of the Vidalia Onion Business Council. "We're trying to put out a better-quality onion every year so that buyers will know that they're getting the best, sweetest onion at that time of year."

Stafford says researchers at the University of Georgia work with farmers to heighten the sweetness of the onions. And the new rule requiring farmers to not pack their onions until April 21 each year will ensure that the onions that reach area stores are "firm and well-cured," he says.

"Farmers let the onions sun-dry in the fields for a few days, then cut them and let them dry several more days in the warehouse before packing," Stafford says.

Last year, about 13,000 acres of prime land located in a 20-county region around Vidalia, Ga., were planted with 80,000 to 100,000 plants per acre, according to Stafford. And most of it was done by hand, a labor-intensive task.

Then farmers pray for the perfect weather to produce the more than 5 million 40-pound boxes of onions shipped throughout the country.

"We count on a fairly mild winter with normal rainfall to make it possible to grow our famous Vidalia Sweet onions in our low- sulfur soil," Stafford says.

And since the onions are not planted till November and December, the excessive rains of summer 2013 only helped, Stafford says, since rainwater filled the farm ponds and made for better irrigation.

There are many recipes using Vidalia onions and, of course, they can be substituted for onions in most any recipe. Stafford, a Vidalia purist, says his favorite way to to eat them is raw or tossed in a salad. But most prefer them slightly cooked, such as Vidalias used in this new recipe from the Vidalia Onion Committee. Consider it fusion cuisine ... it gives a delicious Oriental twist to the sweet onion of the South.

Pasta with Shrimp and Vidalia Oriental

8 ounces uncooked fettuccine

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon oriental sesame oil

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

5 cups Vidalia onion wedges

1 cup sweet red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch chunks

1 pound extra large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Toasted sesame seeds, optional

Cook fettuccine according to package directions; drain; place in a large bowl and set aside. Preheat broiler.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine soy sauce, vinegar, 1/4 cup water, ginger, sesame oil and ground red pepper. On a rack of a broiler pan, place Vidalia onion and red bell pepper. Lightly brush vegetables with soy mixture. Broil until vegetables just start to soften, about 3 minutes; turn and push to side of pan. Place shrimp in a single layer on broiler pan. Lightly brush with soy mixture. Broil until shrimp turn pink, about 1 minute; turn and broil until cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Add shrimp and vegetables to pasta.

In a small saucepan combine cornstarch and remaining soy mixture until smooth; bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute; boil and stir 1 minute longer. Toss with pasta; serve immediately. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds, if desired.


Have you ever dreamed of cooking and traveling on a super yacht such as those that were shown on the show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?" Some are so fantastic they make the yacht once parked at Chickamauga Dam a couple of years ago, if you remember it, look like the SS Minnow. And imagine what it's like to be the be a chef aboard one of these floating palaces.

Now, for the first time, you can spend your vacation in Antibes, France, learning what it takes to cook aboard a yacht, which, instructor/chef Cedric Seguela says, is far different from cooking on land.

Having worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants, as well as working on cruise ships and super yachts, Seguela says the courses are fun when required for a leisure purpose, but serious for training programs. Some, such as the five-day "Kitchen-to-Galley" course, are taught in accordance with Professional Yachting Association guidelines. Prices for the classes, which are taught in English, start around $2,000 for the Kitchen-to-Galley class. There is also a five-day intensive course offered at $2,500. Travel and hotel are extra, but reasonably prices hotels can be found in the area. For more information, including a detailed syllabus, go to secretsdecuisine.fr. Classes are open to all.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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