Onions Are A Cook’s Best Friend

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Exploring The Wonders Of Alliums

I love onions, and nearly all their relatives. Garlic, leeks, shallots, scallions, sweet or hot, mild or tear-inducing: I’ve rarely met an allium I didn’t like. Indeed, I find them somewhat addictive, and I seldom start a savory dish without sautéing onions, shallots, garlic or leeks in some kind of oil, whether olive, sesame, walnut, safflower, rice bran, or coconut. That’s partly, of course, because these aromatic vegetables make kitchens smell like heaven.

It’s also because these humble vegetables can help heal colds, flu, asthma, and bronchitis. Decades of research have found onions to be invaluable for improving cardiovascular health, regulating blood cholesterol levels, and for preventing blood clots. Though garlic packs the heftiest share, all onion family edibles contain antimicrobial compounds that protect against E. coli, salmonella, and other bacterial pathogens. As well, daily dietary inclusion of onions and their relatives can help safeguard against certain cancers, notably those of the stomach and colon. What’s not to love?

Get To Know Your Onions

So many classic savory dishes begin by pairing an allium with a heart-healthy oil. To create your own recipes, build on these basics by adding a teaspoon or so of seeds (celery, fennel, cumin, mustard, sesame), an herb (basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon), or a spice (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, fenugreek). As the fragrance blooms, add anything from fish or fowl to tofu or vegetables. Taste as you go, allow a few minutes for the building flavors to unfold before adjusting seasonings.

If a dish is bland, perk it up with smoked paprika, black, pink, or white pepper, or a dash of hot sauce. Fresh citrus juices lighten heavy dishes, while a splash of infused oil (basil, lemon, garlic) adds body and depth. If flavors seem harsh, mellow them with a touch of maple syrup or honey. This creative process is based on your individual response to food combinations, resulting in a dish that’s just right for you. Write down what you do as you do it so you can replicate your successes and avoid repeating less pleasing combinations. Always give less-than-optimal soups a night in the fridge to meld before deciding your recipe isn’t just right.

Putting Onions To Good Use.

If you’re looking to ease a cold or flu, the onions that pack the most phenolics and flavonoids are Western Yellow, Northern Red, and New York Bold. As a rule of thumb, the stronger the onion flavor, the greater the cancer protection. If you just want to enjoy that blissful fragrance and flavor, any onion kin will do. Indeed, to make any vegetable delectable, toast a few fennel or cumin seeds in olive oil with grated lemon rind and chopped garlic. Add a vegetable, saute until barely tender and serve. Pure magic!

For fresh eating, toss thinly sliced green onions with spinach, baby strawberries and a lemony vinaigrette to make a sprightly spring salad. Enliven chicken or tuna salads with chopped red onion and shredded fresh basil, and add spunky sweet onions to salads, salsas, and fresh chutneys. Roasting brings out the best in winter-weary vegetables of all kinds. Roast whole leeks with potatoes and carrots, then serve with green onion vinaigrette…. You get the drift, I am sure!

Chickenless Soup For Vegans

There are some fierce colds and flus going around this winter, so I’ve been making lots of soup for my own household and others. One great way to fight a cold is to fortify your favorite chicken soup with extra garlic, onions, and fresh cilantro or parsley. After several months of playing about, here’s my current favorite vegetarian/vegan replacement for that classic chicken soup:

Instead-Of-Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 large onions, 1 chopped, 1 grated
4 large cloves garlic, 3 chopped, 1 reserved
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 stalks celery with foliage
1 sweet carrot, grated
2 cups green cabbage, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup stemmed fresh parsley
1/4 cup stemmed fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
freshly ground pepper

In a soup pot, combine olive oil with chopped onion, garlic and lemon zest over medium high heat. Sprinkle with sea salt and cook until soft and slightly golden (10-15 minutes). Trim foliage from celery and grate the stalks (reserve foliage). Add grated onion, celery, and carrot along with the cabbage to pan, cover and cook until the juices run (5-6 minutes). Mince together the celery foliage, parsley, cilantro, thyme and whole clove garlic, add to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Add 4 cups water and half the lemon juice and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt, fresh lemon juice and pepper. Serves at least one.

Korean Breakfast Eggs?

Another delightful way to enjoy garlic and green onions is in a traditional Korean dish called bibimbob. Bibimbop makes a perfect light breakfast, lunch or dinner and is an excellent thing to give somebody who is recovering from a cold or flu. Hearty yet healthy, bibimbop tops hot rice and neatly arrayed vegetables with a lightly fried egg. Tuck each addition into its own spot, so the colors, shapes and textures read artfully. Favorite condiments include bean sprouts, mushrooms, shredded cabbage and carrots, as well as pickled black beans and kim chee. Make it as mild or spicy as you wish by adding gochujang (Korean chili paste), to taste.


2 cups cooked shortgrain brown rice, hot
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 cups coarsely chopped red or green cabbage
8 ounces fresh baby spinach, rinsed and spun dry
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed
1 teaspoon shoyu or soy sauce
4 large eggs
1 cup bean sprouts, rinsed, seed ends trimmed
1 cup julienned carrot
1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean chili paste)
1/4 cup radish sprouts, rinsed, seed ends trimmed

Divide rice between 4 soup bowls, keep warm. Saute oil, garlic and pepper flakes over medium high heat until fragrant. Add cabbage and cook for 2 minutes, place on rice. Add spinach and cook for 2 minutes, place on rice. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes, place on rice. Crack eggs into pan, reduce heat to medium low and cook until whites are set (3-4 minutes). While they cook, divide beans sprouts and carrots between rice bowls. Top with cooked eggs and serve, garnished with chili paste and radish sprouts. Serves 4.

This entry was posted in Recipes, Sustainable Living and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *