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Photo courtesy of Vidalia Onion Committee / Vidalia onions are a special treat this time of year.

About this time every year, the gems of spring — Southern-grown Vidalia onions — appear on grocery shelves. And they are certainly a long-awaited treat for onion-lovers.

Unlike other onions that bring you to tears, these are so mild they're considered tear-free.

Many people love them so much that they bite right into them like an apple, too anxious to wait to use them in delicious recipes.

And fortunately for them, this season promises to be an extremely sweet one — especially good news after all the suffering we've been through over the past year.

Vidalias are planted and cultivated by hand by 60 registered farmers in 13 southeastern Georgia counties, as well as parts of seven more. Seeds are planted in the fall of the year, and this past autumn around 10,000 acres were planted.

"Our seed beds produced good, healthy plants in sufficient volume," says Chelsea Blaxton Page, spokesperson for the Vidalia Onion Committee. "The weather was perfect for our planting season."

Good weather during planting season means a bounty crop, and of all of the sweet onions grown throughout the world, Vidalias represent 40% of the sweet onion market in America. There's just something about the sandy, loam soil in southern Georgia that the onions love.

In turn, Americans love their Vidalias, with more than 200 million pounds shipped annually across the country and Canada, too.

Just as Vidalias are special, they require special handling different from onions of a more sturdy nature. Vidalias' water content contributes to their sweet taste, but it also shortens their shelf life and makes them more susceptible to bruising. The key to preserving these special onions is to keep them cool and dry. Here are the best preservation methods, along with some quick tips:

* In the veggie bin in the refrigerator: Wrap each bulb individually in paper towels, which will help absorb moisture, and place them in the crisper with the vents closed.

* In the legs of clean, sheer pantyhose: Tie a knot in between each Vidalia and simply cut above the knot when you want to use one. Be sure to hang in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.

* On elevated racks or screens: Place them separately, not touching, and in a cool, dry place. Don't store with potatoes, which make the onions go bad more quickly.

Yes, there are other sweet onions on the market, such as Walla Walla, Maui, Palmetto Sweets and others. And they're all good for eating raw on a burger, frying and making onion rings or caramelizing to use in an untold number of ways, including as a topping for sandwiches, salads and pizzas. But there's just something about the South's beloved Vidalia onions that puts a smile on our face every spring.

Here are some favorite recipes from the Vidalia Onion Committee.

 

Vidalia Sweet Onion Dip

What you need:

1 cup finely chopped sweet onion

1 cup mayonnaise (preferably Duke's)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Paprika

Pita chips

What you do:

1. Preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Combine onion, mayonnaise and cheese and spread in baking dish. Lightly dust top with paprika and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until bubbly and brown on top. Serve with pita chips.

* Tip: Add collard greens that have been cooked, mashed and very well drained to this dip for a taste explosion.

 

Salmon with Mango, Ginger and Vidalia

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Photo courtesy of Vidalia Onion Committee / Salmon with mango, ginger and Vidalia

Makes 8 servings

What you need:

2 mangoes

2 Vidalia onions

1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon honey

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Gourmet Garden ginger

3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

2 (3-pound) whole sides of wild salmon, with skin

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Lime wedges, optional

What you do:

1. Peel and slice mangoes into 1/8-inch thick slices. Julienne Vidalia onions. Combine both in a large glass mixing bowl.

2. Whisk lime juice, lemon juice, honey, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ginger in a small bowl. Pour over mango mixture. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

3. Preheat grill to medium heat. Rub top of salmon with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill fish, skin side down (without flipping), over indirect heat for 16-18 minutes, or until easily flakes with a fork. Use an extra-large spatula or a rimless baking sheet to gently lift salmon off the grill, leaving skin on the grill rack.

4. Stir mint into mango mixture. Allow salmon to cool for about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to top salmon with mango mixture, arranging down the center of the fish. Garnish with lime wedges, if desired.

 

Vidalia Primavera Pizza

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Photo courtesy of Vidalia Onion Committee / Vidalia Primavera Pizza

Makes 6 servings

What you need:

16 ounces pizza dough

1 1/4 cup grated smoked mozzarella

1 cup canned diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings, drained

10 thin, fresh asparagus spears

4 slices (about 1/4 inch thick) Vidalia onion

3 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Olive oil

What you do:

1. Heat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Oil a large baking sheet or 12-inch ovenproof skillet. Roll out dough to a 12-inch round, leaving edges thicker to create a crust. Arrange pizza dough on oiled baking sheet or in skillet.

2. Top dough evenly with mozzarella, leaving about a 1-inch border of crust around the edge. Scatter tomatoes over cheese.

3. Trim and discard woody ends from asparagus. Cut spears diagonally crosswise into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces. Combine with onion slices (separated into rings) in a small bowl and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Spread asparagus and onions on top of pizza.

4. Pinch or cut off bite-size pieces of goat cheese and scatter on top of vegetables. Sprinkle oregano over all, drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake on lowest rack in oven 20-25 minutes, or until crust is dark golden brown.

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