Ouch!… Yum… It burns!… But I like it… ::reaches for stick of gum::
If there were ever a misunderstood vegetable, it would be the onion. Constantly removed from burgers, banished from first dates and never allowed to play with the cool food in the grocery cart, the onion is often shunned and perceived as an annoying addition to an otherwise perfectly good meal. Poor, poor onion. On rare occasions that its presence is valued, the onion is usually in its sweet caramelized form or a simple flavor sidekick to a more accepted item. The unfortunate, dejected vegetable rarely stands alone in its own glory. ::Insert sad violin music::
But when was the last time you really tasted an onion? I am not talking about the last time you endured and onion based on your preconceived notion of ickiness (technical word), but when was the last time you appreciated all that the onion’s robust flavor has to offer? Never. Just as I thought.
I am not asking you to go eat an onion like an apple or anything, but imagine you are munching on some great Pico de Gallo or thinly sliced red onion in a Mediterranean Salad. The first bite is powerful, then you start to experience sweet, bitter and earthy undertones followed by a spiciness that totally envelopes the inside of your mouth. When you take a latent breath through your nose, you can feel the aroma of the onion tickle your entire olfactory system.
The sensation of eating an onion is uniquely personal and private due to its infamous nature (and partly because of the whole bad breath issue). No one really cares or wants to learn about the cool happenings going on in your mouth after you eat onion. Many a book and an even more extensive number of careers are built on wine and its apparent flavor complexities; however, I would argue that the onion is wine’s all natural cousin. Completely a God creation, the onion offers an equally multi-dimensional, albeit not as varied, palatable adventure as a good bottle of merlot.
Leave it to the French to both understand a good wine and a good onion. A constant in French cooking, and seen as an integral flavor enhancement to many dishes, the onion finds a wonderful home in traditional fare, such as French Onion Soup. The onion’s decidedly more lengthy cousin, the leek, holds a position of coveted prominence in Potage Parmentier (Potato Leek Soup) and Vichyssoise.
In the hopes of aiding in your budding acceptance of the onion into your cupboard society, try out these onion-based recipes at home. Embrace the flavor… and keep a mint nearby.
Pico de Gallo
1 pc White Onion, coarsely chopped
2 pcs Tomatoes, coarsely chopped, medium sized
1 bunch Cilantro, finely minced
1 pc Jalapeño, removed of seeds and finely minced
1 pc Lemon, juice of
Salt (to taste)
Combine all ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Enjoy!
French Onion Soup
2 pc Yellow Onion, thinly sliced into even slivers
1 1/2 qt Veal Stock, defatted (could use Chicken Stock, or a combination of the two for a lighter flavor)
1/2 c Red Wine
1 Bay Leaf
Cayenne Pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Water (as needed)
Oil (as needed)
4 oz Gruyère Cheese, grated
- Add onion slices to a medium saucepot with a small amount of oil
- Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. The onions will soften and then they will slowly turn brown as they caramelize. If they begin to cook too quickly, add a very small amount of water to the pot to prevent scorching. Caramelizing onions can take 30-45 minutes. Do not rush the process. This step is critical to the overall flavor of the soup. Onions are caramelized when they are a deep, golden brown and taste very sweet.
- Once onions are caramelized, deglaze the pot with Red Wine (add the Red Wine and stir the onions). Let simmer for about a minute. The goal is to retain the flavor of the Red Wine, without having an overpowering alcohol component.
- Add Veal Stock, Bay Leaf and Cayenne Pepper. You may also add salt, but I find that salt is not necessary due to the salt in the Stock and the salt from the cheese.
- Simmer for 5-10 minutes
- Pour soup in oven safe bowls and cover with Gruyère Cheese.
- Melt Cheese using broiler, oven or salamander.