I have found that whatever I am making for dinner, my recipes tend to start out the same way: dice/slice/cube the onion and lightly sauté it in a pan. Onions are a great way to bulk out a dish and add a wonderful flavour but they are rarely showcased as the main ingredient. This is a massive shame as onions are delicious and deserve to be shown the respect they are due.
The origin of the onion is not well known as the original wild onion variety is now extinct – and has been for some time. The cultivated version that we know today has been around for over five millennia and has been cultivated by different cultures around the world over this time period.
One of the most famous traits of the onion is that cutting onions makes you cry. This is an evolutionary defence mechanism in which damage to the flesh of an onion starts a chain reaction in which enzymes within it cause the production of syn-Propanethial-S-oxide – or as normal people call it, “the stuff that makes you cry”. This gas irritates our eyes when we cut onions but more importantly for the plant, if it gets attached by pests whilst growing, the gas makes it painful to eat the onion so the pests will move onto a different plant. The gas is sulphur based and the majority of the sulphur in an onion is located near the root end. This is why people advise not cutting off the bottom end of an onion until you have cut up the rest of it as this will reduce the irritation on your eyes. Another interesting thing about this onion based tear gas is that if you cut up enough onions, your eyes will get used to it and you will stop crying – you can actually become immune!
Onions make a great star ingredient for many vegetarian dishes. French onion soup – for which the recipe is given below – is a fantastic example of this. It’s warm, filling, packed full of flavour and completely vegetarian (even vegan if you replace the butter with olive oil). Onion tarts are another popular dish. I am very partial to a tart we make at home which has red onions and balsamic vinegar with a little cheese and a scone like base. Goats cheese and red onion are another classic pairing. Of course we cannot forget one of the most popular forms of the onion – the pickled onion. Soaked in a spiced vinegar, these are often served as a side dish, are popular in sandwiches and together with cheese, bread and sometimes ham, make the Ploughman’s lunch.
I hope you enjoy the recipe and that it opens the onion up to far more possibilities in your kitchen.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 90 minutes
Cost per serving: around 60p
3 medium onions
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
3 tsp sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) cooking sherry
750ml vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Thinly slice the onions and add them to a pan with the oil and the butter.
Lightly sauté until the onions are translucent.
Finely crush the garlic and mix it in along with the sugar.
Allow to caramelise for at least three quarters of an hour stirring every fifteen minutes.
Add the sherry and simmer for another fifteen minutes.
Stir in the stock and cook for another half hour to allow the flavours to meld.
Serve with croutons or crusty bread for dipping.
This soup keeps well in the fridge – but never seems to last longer than 48 hours in my house anyway.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a big fan of soups, check out how to make my butternut squash, curried parsnip or tomato and red pepper soups or if you prefer sweet dishes to savoury ones, why not try to master the art of macarons?
Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a classic British biscuit.