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Onions are close to perfect

Around the table

POSTED: June 5, 2014 2:00 p.m.
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The onion packs a lot into a small package.

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Onions are pretty close to being the perfect food, not only for adding character to an endless variety of dishes but also for their health benefits.
According to www.care2.com/greenliving, a chemical compound in onions called quercetin plays a big role in preventing cancer. Additionally, something called phytochemicals in onions help improve how vitamin C works in our bodies, which improves our immune systems.
Onions also contain chromium, which assists in regulating sugar. For centuries onions have been prescribed for reducing inflammation and healing infections.
Their website said fresh, sliced onions encourage the growth of good cholesterol (HDL), so I’ve started adding chopped onions to my salads and sandwiches. Fresh-sliced, battered and deep-fried onion rings probably don’t offer the same health benefits, but who cares. They’re delicious!
Onions come in three basic colors — yellow, white and red. Yellow onions are the most popular and the variety produced in greatest quantities. My favorite — the Vidalia sweet onion — is actually a yellow onion. I’ll say more about it in a minute.
I like white onions and prefer them if sweet onions are not available. White onions are what you’ll find on a lot of sub-sandwiches and hot dogs. Although I will use white onions for cooking, for years I didn’t care for them raw, which led me to open my sandwiches and scrape off the onions.
When I was about 12 years old, I tried a North Carolina-style hot dog, which is smothered in mustard, chili sauce, Carolina-style cole slaw and chopped white onions. I loved it but didn’t realize there were onions in it until the lady at the counter told me. I’ve eaten onions on my dogs ever since.
Some red onions are almost purple and have a pretty intense flavor, which makes them great when sautéed with peppers and spices or added to stews and soups. Sometimes it’s a chore to chop onions because they can bring tears to our eyes. I recommend putting them in the freezer for about an hour before chopping them.
My inquisitive nature led me to see what kinds of onions are used at fairs and festivals. I’ve found gunny sacks of Spanish (yellow) onions behind booths where sausages with peppers and onions were being prepared. They could have used another type of onion, but Spanish onions are an all-purpose onion. They’re also plentiful and cheaper.
One thing I learned early in my house was never to bad-mouth Vidalia onions. My daddy ate them like apples. I was skeptical about eating them raw, even after I began eating raw onions on my hot dogs. Then one day at a social event, I was given a burger stacked with lettuce, tomato and a large slice of Vidalia onion. I was in love.
Unlike other onions that can be stored for weeks at a time in a cool, dark place, Vidalia onions should be wrapped in a paper towel and stored in the refrigerator, probably not too close to the milk or butter though.
According to the official Vidalia Onion Committee’s website, Piggly Wiggly made these sweet onions famous by selling them in their stores around the nation. They’re not sweet because of their yellow color (some even appear white). It’s the soil in which they’re grown.
That soil is only found in 13 Georgia counties and parts of seven other counties, all surrounding Toombs County (Vidalia). If it’s grown anywhere else, it won’t taste like a Vidalia and can’t “legally” be called one, per Federal Marketing Order No. 955. It’s not surprising that the Vidalia onion is Georgia’s official state vegetable.
I won’t make vegetable soup without onions. That goes for bean soup, pork or beef roasts, chili and spaghetti sauce, too. I even slice up an onion with my collards. Onions are an essential ingredient for omelets, corned-beef hash and homemade hashbrowns, and the only thing I cook with venison tenderloin, save a few spices.
When you eat a lot of onions, you’re bound to get onion breath. But that’s what Altoids are for. Besides, it’s better than garlic breath. Garlic is another veggie worth talking about, but we’ll save it for another column.

Email Murray at rmurray@coastalcourier.com.

 

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