Vegan Grandma

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Candied Onions and Some Interesting Things About Onions.

At last I am settled in my new home. Packing, moving, and unpacking left me little time for blogging. Thank Heaven that's over. Now I can get back to posting most days, and to visiting all of your blogs, which I have missed doing.

Here is a recipe I made and really liked. I love onions, especially the sweet ones.

This recipe is from Cooking the Whole Foods Way, by Christine Pirello, published by the Berkley Publishing Company, New York, NY, page 259.

"Candied" Onions
Makes 4 servings

This is good side dish for a winter meal, or on toast or pizza. It keeps for about a week in the refrigerator.

6 to 8 onions, cut into thick wedges

2 to 3 garlic cloves, finely minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

About 2 teaspoons spring or filtered water

soy sauce

Reduced balsamic vinegar*

Preheat oven to 375. Arrange wedges snugly in a baking dish and sprinkle with minced garlic. Drizzle with oil, water and a little soy sauce. Cover and bake about 45 minutes. Remove cover and bake about 30 minutes until the onions are very soft. Season lightly with the reduced balsamic vinegar, stir gently, and transfer to a serving dish. Serve hot.

* To reduce balsamic vinegar, place 1 cup balsamic vinegar in a non-reactive saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat until volume is reduced to ½ cup. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar. A small amount goes a long way. A casserole that will feed four people, will need only 2 to 3 tablespoons of reduced balsamic vinegar for full bodied flavor.

Some Interesting Things about Onions

Onions are members of the allium family which also includes garlic, elephant garlic, chives, shallots, Welsh onions and Chinese chives. There are also species, such as Allium moly, grown onlyfor ornament.

Prehistoric humans probably started eating wild onions very early . Onions may be one of the earliest cultivated crops because they were less perishable than other foods of the time, were transportable, were easy to grow and could be grown in a variety of soils and climates. Onions prevented thirst and could be dried and preserved for times when food was scarce.

Onions grew in Chinese gardens as early as 5000 years ago and they are mentioned in some of the oldest Vedic writings from India.

In Egypt, onions can be traced back to 3500 B.C. Onions were an object of worship to the Egyptians, who saw eternal life in the anatomy of the onion because of its circle-within-a-circle structure. They buried onions along with their Pharaohs.

There is evidence that the Sumerians were growing onions as early as 2500 B.C. One Sumerian text dated to about 2500 B.C. tells of someone plowing over the city governor's onion patch.

In the Middle Ages, the three main vegetables of European cuisine were beans, cabbage and onions. Onions were used as rent payments and wedding gifts. (I sure wish my landlord would take onions as rent. I grow a lot of them in my garden.)

The first Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower. Then they found that wild onions grew throughout North America. Native American Indians used wild onions in a variety of ways, eating them raw or cooked, as a seasoning or as a vegetable.

Onion Varieties

Onions come in three colors - yellow, red, and white.

Depending on the variety, an onion can be sharp and pungent or mild or sweet.

The stronger-flavored white and yellow varieties are popular for cooking because they become milder and sweeter when cooked, and they give a pleasant flavor to foods with which they are cooked.

White onions are the traditional onion used in classic Mexican cuisine. They have a golden color and sweet flavor when sauteed.

Yellow onions are full-flavored and can be used in almost any dish in which onions are used. Yellow onions turn a rich, dark brown when cooked and give French Onion Soup its tangy sweet flavor.

The red onion, with its beautiful color, is a good choice for fresh uses or in grilling and char-broiling.

Onions range in size from less than 1 inch in diameter (creamers/boilers) to more than 4.5 inches in diameter (super colossal).

Onions are divided into two categories, spring onions, and globe onions.

Spring onions have a mild flavor. Both the green tops and the bulbs are eaten. Globe onions have a more pungent flavor. The dry outer skins are discarded.

Onions can also be categorized as fresh onions and storage onions.

Fresh onions are in season early in the spring, and are often named after the region where they grow, such as Vidalia from Georgia, Walla Walla from Washington , Maui from Hawaii, Imperial from California , Carzalia from New Mexico, The Texas Spring or Supersweet from Texas , OSO Sweets from Chile, South America.

Fresh onions are available from March to August, though some producers extend the season by storing them in a low-oxygen environment. Because their individual seasons are short, fresh onions are often more expensive that storage onions.

Fresh onions have thin, light-colored skin. Because they have a higher water content, they are typically sweeter and milder than storage onions. This higher water content also makes them more susceptible to bruising.

Fresh onions are good for salads and other fresh and lightly-cooked dishes.

Certain fresh onions, called sweet onions, are known for their mild, sweet taste. These onions contain more sugars and fewer sulfur-containing compounds than other onions do.

Sweet onions brown well in the microwave. Place 1 cup of sliced sweet onions with 2 tablespoons vegan margarine in an uncovered dish in the microwave. Heat for 15 minutes on high.

Sweet onions are mild and crisp. They are great for slicing raw on veggie burgers and sandwiches, and salads. If you do cook sweet onions, cook them slowly over low heat. The high sugar content makes them burn easily.

Since sweet onions have a lower sulphur content, they don’t bring tears to your eyes as much as do other onions.

Storage onions, also called fall or winter onions, are firm, have a lower water content, and a more pungent flavor than fresh, sweet onions. They are available year round, because their low water content retards molding during storage. Storage onions have multiple layers of thick, dark, papery skin. This category includes the yellow onion, white onion, red onion, Spanish onion, and Bermuda onion.

Storage onions are picked in late summer and are dry-cured to retard spoilage.

Since storage makes onions more pungent, these onions are usually cooked before eating.

Storage onions are the best choice for savory dishes that require longer cooking times or more flavor. Cook storage onions slowly with a little fat for robust flavor.

Here are some popular varieties of onion.

Bermuda onions are the most commonly used large white onion. They have a sweet mild flavor. Bermuda onions are popular for use in salads. They're available in the spring.

Cippolini onions ("chip-ah-LEE-nee"), also called Borettana onion, are round, flat Italian onions that are about one to two inches in diameter. They are mild and sweet. Cippolini onions are available in the fall.

Pearl onions are sweet and mild. They are tiny, about one inch in diameter. They are often pickled or creamed.

Red onions have a mild, somewhat sweet taste, and are a favorite for sandwiches and salads. These are sweet enough to eat raw, and they're often used to add color to salads. They go well in salads with avocados and oranges. They're also excellent grilled or lightly cooked. Varieties include the sweet red Italian onion, Italian red onion, creole onion, and red torpedo onion.

Red onions can be made a bit milder by marinating them in red wine vinegar.

Shallots to Americans are shaped like small brown onions with papery brown skins , (Australians use the term shallots to describe green onions) . Shallots have a more delicate, garlicky flavor than other cooking onions, and are a common ingredient in French sauces. Many people find them too hot to eat raw. Shallots are available year-round.

Spanish onions are similar to yellow onions, but are larger and a bit sweeter. They are commonly used for cooking. Spanish onions caramelize easily.

Yellow onions, also called yellow globe onions, or yellow storage onions are what most cooks use when a recipe simply calls for "onion." They are higher in sulfur than the white onion, so they are more likely to bring tears to your eyes when you cut into them. Yellow onions turn a rich brown and become sweeter and milder when cooked. Many people find them too pungent to eat raw.

Health benefits of onions

There is evidence that onions are somewhat effective against colds, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other diseases and contain anti-inflammatory, anticholesterol, anticancer, and antioxidant components such as quercetin.

In many parts of the undeveloped world, onions are used to heal blisters and boils. In the United States, products that contain onion extract (such as Mederma) are used in the treatment of topical scars.

Researchers have documented that adenosine in onions hinders clot formation, which may help prevent heart attacks.

A cup of boiled onions provides about 225 mg of potassium.

Onions may protect against artery-damaging cholesterol by raising levels of protective high-density liporoteins(HDL’s).

Some studies suggest that eating onions may lower blood pressure.

Nutritional Values:

Serving Size: 1 medium onion (148g)
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 60
Calories from Fat: 0
% of Daily Value
Total Fat: 0g 0%
Saturated Fat: 0g 0%
Cholesterol: 0mg 0%
Sodium: 5mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate:14g 5%
Dietary Fiber: 3g 12%
Sugars 9g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A: 0%
Vitamin C: 20%
Calcium: 4%
Iron: 2%
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Source: PMA Labeling Facts.
The red or yellow storage onions have the most antioxidants.

Choosing Onions

Globe onions should be firm and heavy for their size, with dry, papery skins Avoid onions that have an odor, or that have green or moldy blemishes, or have green sprouts showing at the top, indicating that the onion is past its prime. Globe onions should have a mild odor, not a strong onion smell

Scallions should have crisp dark green tops, and firm white bottoms.

Do not buy onions that have any sign of decay because the decay will spread to other onions .
Avoid onions that are soft or sprouting.

Young onions are sweeter than old ones.

When buying sweet onions, look for ones that are light golden-brown in color, with a shiny tissue-thin skin and firm, tight, dry necks. (Ordinary storage onions are darker and have a thicker skin.) When cut, sweet onions should have a creamy white interior. Avoid sweet onions that have soft spots or surface bruises.

Storing Onions

Globe onions should be stored in a cool dry place, with good air circulation, away from light. Exposure to light can give them a bitter taste.

Onions should ideally be stored in hanging bags to allow air to circulate around them.

Onions should keep for two to three weeks except in hot, humid weather. In hot humid weather the onions last only one to two weeks.

Scallions will keep a few days in the refrigerator and should be used before they begin to soften.

Do not store onions near potatoes. Potatoes give off moisture and a gas that causes onions to spoil quicker.

Chives should be refrigerated wrapped in paper towels in a plastic bag and used within three or four days for the best flavor.

Scallions and leeks can be stored in the refrigerator.

Onions will last for about two months in the refrigerator. Store them in a single layer in the vegetable bin on paper towels. Or, for longer storage, wrap in foil.

You can store onions in pantyhose. Take a leg from a pair of clean, sheer pantyhose, drop an onion into the foot, tie a knot. Hang in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.

Onions can be stored on racks or screens. Place on elevated racks or screens, not touching, in a cool area.

To freeze chopped onions, you don't need blanch them. Place the chopped onions on a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer. When frozen, place in freezer containers or bags.

To freeze whole onions, peel, wash, core and freeze in a freezer-proof container or bag.

Frozen onions will keep for about a year.

Frozen onions and chives can be added to any dish while still frozen. Frozen onions lose their crispness, and can be used only for cooking.

Sauteed, grilled or roasted onions can be kept frozen for a month. Spread the cooked onions in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet and freeze until solid. Separate clumps and transfer to a zip-lock freezer bag.

To dry onions, chop them and dry in the oven, using the lowest setting (or use a dehydrator). Remove them when thoroughly dry but not brown. Store at room temperature in airtight containers.

Using Onions

Onions are very versatile. They can be used raw in salads or sandwiches, cooked in stews, soups, and casseroles, baked, boiled, sauteed, or creamed and served as a side dish.

When cooking onions, always cook them over low or medium heat, since they become bitter when cooked at high temperatures.

If you are only going to use half an onion, use the top half. The root half will store longer in the

When you need only a small portion of an onion, do not peel the whole onion. Cut off the size you need and peel it. The remaining portion will keep longer with the skin on it in the refrigerator.

If you need the juice of an onion, squeeze half an onion with the skin on it. Use a lemon squeezer.
Onions that have sprouted can still be eaten. The sprouts can also be used.

Onions that have become pithy and have begun to sprout can be placed on a sunny windowsill. They will continue to sprout, and you can snip off pieces of the sprouts to use in salads. Also, instead of discarding the root ends of onions, you can place these in potting soil, roots down. Keep them slightly moist, but not soggy. They will grow sprouts you can use.

When sauteeing onions and garlic together, saute the onions first for ½ of their cooking time to prevent over cooking the garlic. Overcooked garlic will make the dish bitter.

To prevent the insides of the onion to pop out when you are cooking them in a casserole or stew, pierce the onion with a skewer before cooking to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

To retain the sweetness of raw white and red onions, chop them, place the chopped onions in a strainer, dip the strainer in a bowl of cold water that has been mixed with a small amount of white vinegar (about ½ teaspoon of vinegar to one quart of water). The slight acidity of the vinegar will stop the onions from turning bitter.

Onions become sweeter when they are cooked.

As onions are browned, the sugars and proteins change and become a deep brown color. The onions caramelize and the flavor intensifies. This is called the "Maillard reaction." Sprinkling onions with brown sugar will speed caramelization.

Onions will change color when cooked and turn a creamy white from the chemical "anthocyanin." If this chemical comes in contact with aluminum or iron pots, it will turn brown. Carbon-steel knives can cause the same reaction and turn the onion brown.

To roast onions, bake whole, unpeeled onions at 400 degrees F. until tender (test for tenderness by piercing with a fork), about 1 hour. Cut in half lengthwise, and serve hot in their skins, topped with vegan margarine, salt, and ground black pepper.

To grill onions, peel large onions, cut them in half or into ½ inch thick slices. Poke small, soaked bamboo skewers through the halves or slices in two directions (so the onions won’t come apart). Brush or spray generously with oil, and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-hot fire until soft and browned, about 5 minutes per side for slices, and about 8 minutes per side for halves.

To make a too-hot onion milder, soak the cut onion in ice water for 15 to 45 minutes (depending on how large and how hot the onion is) changing the water twice. Pat the onion dry before using. If you add vinegar to the water (2 tablespoons for every 4 cups of water) you can reduce the soaking time to 5 to 30 minutes.

If onions turn blue-gray while cooking, add a bit of something acidic such as lemon juice or vinegar.

To peel pearl onions, drop them into boiling water, boil one minute, transfer to a bowl of ice water with a slotted spoon. When cool, pinch the root ends and the skin will slip off. You can save time by buying frozen, peeled pearl onions.

Cutting Onions

Slice onions just before you use them. Cut onions will turn bitter when exposed to air for too long. You can also rinse cut onions in water and store them in an airtight glass jar filled with ice water. Stored this way, cut onions will keep their fresh flavor for 3 to 4 hours.

The bigger and firmer the onion, the easier it will be to cut.

A wet onion is easier to peel than a dry one.

Use a sharp knife. A dull knife can slip and will mash rather than slice through the onion. Use a straight-edge chef’s knife, for cleaner cuts.

Be sure your cutting board is positioned securely on the counter. If necessary, place a damp kitchen towel underneath to keep the board from sliding around.

When cutting onions ahead of time, pack them in a plastic zipper-lock freezer bag. squeeze the air out of the bag, then enclose in a second plastic zipper-lock freezer bag, and refrigerate. This will help to keep other foods in the refrigerator from absorbing the onion odor.

Use cut onions within 2 days.

Save onion trimmings, including the papery brown skin and add to soup stock for golden color, store in a well-sealed plastic zipper-lock freezer bag in your freezer.


One large onion equals about one cup chopped onion.

One medium onion equals about 3/4 cup chopped onion.

one small onion equals about 1/3 cup chopped onion, one teaspoon onion powder, or one tablespoon dried onion flakes.

Five medium onions equal about 1 pound

To cover-up onion cooking odors, combine, in a saucepan, 6 cups water, 1 cup vinegar, and 1 teaspoon cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.

To remove the smell of onions or garlic from your hands, rub your hands with the bowl of a stainless steel spoon or other stainless steel utensil, under warm, running water. You can buy a device made for this purpose in kitchen shops. It looks like a bar of stainless steel soap.

The smell of onions can be removed from utensils and cutting board with a strong solution of salt water or a small amount of white vinegar, a paste of baking soda or water, or a slice of fresh lemon rubbed on the surface.

To remove the odor of onions from your breath, eat several sprigs of vinegar or salt-dipped parsley, or plain parsley, or rinse your mouth with equal parts water and lemon juice.
You can also chew on fennel seeds or coffee beans.

Watery Eyes

When onions are cut, the cells release a chemical that reacts with the fluid in your eyes to form a mild sulfuric acid, causing your eyes to water. Cutting the onions under running tap water or completely under water can help prevent the tears, as can rinsing the onion and leaving it wet while cutting. Freezing the onion for 10 minutes may help. Some people will freeze their knives to enhance this effect. Using a sharp knife will limit the cell damage to the onion, and therefore prevent the release of chemicals. Other methods that some people find helpful are placing a balled-up piece of white bread on the tip of the knife to absorb the fumes, chewing gum, or lighting a candle.

Some species of onions will cause more tear formation and irritation than others.


Grandmother's Food Secrets, by Dr. Myles H. Bader, published by Mylette Enterprises, LLC, Las Vegas NV 89102

Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tips, by David Joachim, published by Rodale
Foods that Harm, Foods that Heal, an A to Z Guide to safe and healthy Eating, Published by the readers digest Association, Inc., 1997

Professional Vegetarian Cooking, by Ken Bergeron, published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.


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