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Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

posted on: Jun 21, 2022

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

A staple ingredient in cooking since the dawn of civilization, the onion (allium cepa) has been available as a food for thousands of years by all strata of society – from peasant to royalty.

It is one of the most adaptable vegetables known to humankind and a great creator of flavours in our daily meals. It is said that even though we talk about its offensive smell and cry when we peel that common garden vegetable, we would be much unhappier if this noble bulb was not to be found on our usual menus.

Onions are thought to have been grown in the Middle East since prehistoric times.  To the ancient Egyptians they were divine vegetables which represented eternity.  In many of the early civilizations it was believed that they increased the production of sperm and gave me strength.  They were a staple of the labourers who built the pyramids, and it is thought that Alexander the Great fed his troops on this versatile vegetable to imbue them with courage.

From the Middle East, the cultivation of onions spread westward throughout the Greek and Roman lands, but eastward the inhabitants of ancient India did not develop a liking for them.  In fact, they abhorred their very taste and smell.  On the other hand, in all parts of the world, people, through the centuries, have believed they were a strong aphrodisiac.  The epicurean philosopher Celsus, the poet Martial and Shaykh Nefzawi in his erotic work, The Perfumed Garden, all mentioned them as a sexual stimulant.  

After the discovery of the Americas, the Spaniards and Portuguese brought them to the New World where, in the subsequent centuries, they thrived.  Today, millions of tons of this early human food are grown in every corner of the globe.

A member o the lily family, onions are closely allied to chives, garlic, leeks, and shallots.  They are biennial or perennial root vegetables which can be grown from seed but are usually planted from bulb.  There are over 300 species – the most important being button, tiny bulbs; Egyptian, with bulbs at the top and bottom of the shoots; potato, like its namesake vegetable, each shoot producing a number of bulbs; Spanish, a pear-like large mild type which keeps well; and Welsh, a strong flavoured variety.  Most species flourish in all types of climates.  In warm countries they are generally mild, sweet, and usually larger than those grown in cold lands, where they tend to be hardier, smaller, and more strongly flavoured.  

The spectrum of colours and shapes of onions are endless.  They come in purple, silver, yellow, but mainly white, and from tiny to large, round or oval bulbs.  Both the shoots and bulbs in most types can be used in cooking.  The bulbs are long lasting.  When stored in airy, cool, and dry places they will keep well all winter.

Onions are healthy and nourishing food.  They contain calcium, carbohydrates, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, protein, potassium, sodium, a trace of fat, vitamins A, B and C, and no cholesterol.  They add a great deal of flavour to food but a minimum of calories – a medium onion contains less than 40 calories.

In the Middle Ages, onions were considered medical plants.  Herbalists prescribed them for respiratory ailments; as a diuretic; for relieving gallstones, headaches, and piles; and were employed as poultices for boils, burns, calluses, sores, and warts.

Modern research has found that the medical properties ascribed to them by these medieval doctors have some basis of fact.  It has been found that this versatile vegetable contains antibacterial and antifungal components which act as an antiseptic.  In addition, consuming them daily is believed to help in reducing cholesterol levels and inhibiting blood clotting.

Onions are retailed in numerous ways and forms.  The green shoots are sold fresh by the bunch and the mature dried bulbs in bulk or in cello packs, or other types of bags.  They can also be purchased in flakes, frozen, powdered, and as a salt or juice.  

Their uses and method of consumption are many and diversified.  The skins make excellent dyes, and they can be eaten as an ingredient in food, raw, cooked or employed as a flavouring.  They can be prepared in every conceivable fashion.  Yet, in whatever form onions are prepared:  baked, barbecued, fried, marinated, pickled, stewed, or stuffed, they are delicious.  There is only one drawback in their preparation.  When peeled or chopped, they give a caustic vapour which causes the eyes to tear.  To eliminate this problem, onions should be peeled under running water or refrigerated before peeling.

Mild, sweet varieties like Spanish are superb barbecued, as an ingredient in salads or eaten raw with a little salt and a sprinkling of vinegar.  The small buttons make very tasty pickles, and all types can be utilized to jazz up a countless number of dishes.

When used as a component with other foods, onions are great condiments.  Their pungent odour and taste create a play of flavours in casseroles, salads, soups, stews, and vegetable dishes.  The many uses of this historic vegetable gives credence to the saying, ‘a man to know his onions means to know his business’.  There is no doubt that a versatile cook who says, ‘I will chop an onion then figure out what to cook’ is a person who knows his business.  

ONION WITH TAHINI

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Can be served as an appetizer or dip

2 large onions (about 454 ml – 1 lb.)

4 tbsp. tahini (sesame seed paste which can be purchased in health or 

Middle Eastern stores)

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. vinegar

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

Bake onions in a 180o C (350o F) preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Remove and allow to cool.

Place with the remaining ingredients except parsley in a food processor and process into a paste.  Spread evenly on a platter and decorate with parsley.  Sprinkle with a little olive oil and serve.

CHOPPED EGG AND ONION

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Can be served as a dip or appetizer

1 large Spanish onion (about 227 ml – 1/2 lb)

6 hard boiled eggs, shelled and chopped

2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1/2 small hot pepper, finely chopped

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 tbsp. lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Small tomato, finely chopped

Place all ingredients except tomato in a food processor and process into a paste.  Place evenly on a platter and decorate with tomato pieces.  Chill and serve.

BAKED ONION AND CHEESE

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Makes a great appetizer, side dish or snack.

2 large onions (about 454 ml – 1 lb.), sliced into pieces about 1/4-inch 

thick

4 tbsp. parmesan cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. thyme

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Pinch of cayenne

Place onion slices in a greased pan.  Bake in a 180o C (350o F) oven for 15 minutes.

Thoroughly combine remaining ingredients and spread evenly over top the onion slices.  Bake for a further 20 minutes.

Serve hot.

ONION AND CHEESE OPEN-FACED SANDWICHES

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

These tasty sandwiches are great snacks or served as appetizers.

8 slices bread

1 cup minced onions

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

4 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne

Place bread slices on a cookie try and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients.  Spread evenly over bread slices.

Bake in a 180o C (350o F) oven for 15 minutes.

Serve hot.

MARINATED ONION

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

This makes an excellent side dish at barbecues.

2 large Spanish onions (about 454 ml – 1 lb.), sliced into pieces about 1/4-

inch thick

4 tbsp. vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. crushed dried mint

2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Place onion slices on a platter and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients.

Spoon evenly over onions and chill in refrigerator for at least wo hours before serving.

ONION AND TOMATO SOUP

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Serves about 8

4 tbsp. olive oil

4 large onions (about 1 kg – 2.2 lbs.), chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 small hot pepper, finely chopped

5 medium tomatoes, chopped

6 cups water

2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/2 tsp. ginger

1/2 cup finely chopped coriander

Croutons

Heat oil in a saucepan, then sauté onions, garlic, and hot pepper over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring once in a while.

Add tomatoes and sauté for a further 20 minutes.

Stir in remaining ingredients except coriander and croutons and bring to boil.

Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.  

Stir in coriander and remove from heat.

Serve hot with each person adding croutons to taste.

CREAMED ONION SOUP

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Serves about 8

4 tbsp. olive oil

4 large onions (about 1 kg – 2.2 lbs.), chopped

1 medium sweet pepper, finely chopped

4 cups water

4 tbsp. chopped green olives

4 tbsp. pulverized almonds

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

2 cups 10% cream

1 tbsp. flour

Heat oil in saucepan, then sauté onions and sweet pepper over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Add water, olives, almonds, salt, and pepper, then bring to boil.  Turn heat to low and cover.  Cook for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool.  

Puree, then return to saucepan.  Stir in flour and cream and, stirring constantly, bring to boil.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times.

Serve hot.

BEET AND ONION SALAD

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Serves 6 to 8

4 medium cooked beets (about 454 ml – 1 lb.), sliced into pieces about 

1/4-inch thick

4 tbsp. finely chopped fresh coriander leaves 

4 tbsp. vinegar

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

Place beet slices on a platter and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients.  

Spoon evenly over beet slices.

Chill and serve.

ONION AND TOMATO SALAD

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Serves about 8

2 large Spanish onions (about 454 ml – 1 lb.), halved and thinly sliced

3 medium tomatoes, halved and thinly sliced

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 tbsp. vinegar

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp. crushed dried mint

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. pepper

1/8 tsp. cayenne

Place onions and tomatoes in a salad bowl and set aside.

Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the onions and tomatoes.

Gently toss and serve.

ONION AND CHEESE PIES

Chop an Onion then Figure out What to Cook

Makes 12 pies

1 lb. bread dough (thawed if frozen)

2 large onions (about 454 ml – 1 lb.), finely chopped

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper

Pinch of cayenne

Make 12 balls out of the dough.  Place on a flour sprinkled tray and cover with a kitchen towel.  Allow to stand for about an hour.

In the meantime, make a filling by combining remaining ingredients.  

Roll the balls into 5 to 6-inch rounds.

Place two heaping tablespoons of filling on each round, then close into half-rounds and flute edges.  Place on a greased cookie try and brush with a little oil.

Bake in a 180o C (350o F) preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until pies turn golden brown.  Remove and brush again with a little oil.

Serve warm.