Sunday, February 13, 2011

My Favorite Vegetable Is…

If I were forced to choose a 'favorite vegetable' (an extremely difficult decision), it would be the onion.  I harbor a secret wish that the National Onion Growers Association (is there such a group?) will one day offer me a grant to write a promotional book for publication.  I'm pretty passionate about onions!

The onion can be eaten raw or cooked, baked, broiled, pickled, boiled, simmered, stewed, and fried.  Its sheer versatility and range of flavor, depending on the cooking method, make it a stand-out amongst other vegetables - - somewhat ironic, as one usually eats an onion as an ingredient or as an accompaniment rather than by itself.  It's a companionable vegetable.

There are a few important things to know about the onion, as a basic ingredient:

1.  The nutritional value of a raw onion is exceedingly high in Vitamins C, B6, Folate and Thiamine as well as in the Minerals Manganese, Potassium, Phosphorus and Calcium.

2.  Raw onions are great for bolstering the immune system.  Eaten in a salad of tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers - dressed in olive oil, sea salt, and dried basil or oregano - onions provide the perfect counter-balance to the sweeter fruits.  They're also instrumental in making a bowl of warm lentils or cannellini beans sing.  (Tip: the juice  of a fresh lemon or lime on raw onion will mitigate its sharpness and make a lovely dressing on the legume salad.)

3.  According to Rita Romano, author of Dining in the Raw, the onion is the one vegetable that retains its healing properties even when cooked.  It is a key ingredient in any homemade chicken soup or basic broth of thyme, sea salt and sliced onion - boiled till soft and translucent - to make a chest-clearing, healing remedy.

4.  As any onion cooks, even the sharpest in taste will release its sugars and become sweeter.  This trait makes it an excellent corrector for savory dishes that may have been 'accidentally' over-salted.  Tomato sauce too salty?  Add a minced onion or two and continue cooking until it's almost disintegrated into the sauce.  (A little bit of sugar can help here too, but if you'd rather not resort to refined sugar, the onion will help.)  Too much salt in the rice?  Before removing it from the pan, mince and mix thoroughly two onions (for 1 lb. of dry rice) into the rice - sprinkling in a bit more water so the onion will steam. Continue cooking till the onion is tender and the additional water is absorbed - about 8-10 minutes.

I remember, as a kid, being fascinated by a boiled onion on my plate - that, when gently prodded with a fork, would shed its outer layer and issue forth a smaller and smaller version of itself till there was nothing left to prod.  Sweet memories.

Had I written this post in rhyme, I might have entitled it "Ode To An Onion".  Alas, it's only written in high praise… So I'll stick with "My Favorite Vegetable…"

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