Know your onions

In Camping food, Food Styling, Recipes by Caroline VelikLeave a Comment

Caroline Velik food stylist Onions. Photo Marina Oliphant

Simple yet sophisticated, onions are the everyday ingredient we can’t do without. There are two broad types of onions –mature and immature. Mature onions include brown, white, red, Spanish onions (which are yellow) and French shallots (also known as eschalots). Immature onions are young onions that still have their green stems. Some confusion persists about names here. Green (spring) onions are sold in bunches and have long slender stems. They are frequently used in Asian cooking. They are also known as scallions. The true Spring onion (salad onion) has a more pronounced bulb and is great in salads. Look out for these in Spring, for their delicate flavour.

Whilst we all cook with onions, they can bring a tear to your eye-literally. There are a few tips to make cutting onions more bearable. Firstly, be aware that young onions are not as pungent as old ones, so buy your onions where there is frequent turnover.

When cutting, a really sharp knife will help. I like to cut my onions in half lengthways, with the skin still on. Then I can pull back the skin to make a handle to grip. Two slices through horizontally, then 3 or 4 vertically through the length, and finish with a quick chop across for a fine dice.

Placing onions in the fridge can also help reduce the tears by cooling down the volatile naturally occurring chemicals. Wearing glasses or contact lenses helps provide a barrier too. If all else fails, strap on the swimming goggles for when you have commercial quantities to slice. I’m speaking from experience.

Once cooked though, onions become sweet and mellow, adding warmth and body to soups, stews, roasts and casseroles.

So why not let the humble onion take centre stage for once? Try one of the following recipes and let your onions be the star of the your next meal.

Baked shallots with raisins, balsamic and goats feta

Peel shallots in no time with this simple tip –a dip in hot water will loosen the skins for you.

30 shallots
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
few sprigs thyme
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup raisins
2 Tbsp brown sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
200g soft goats feta to serve

Preheat oven to 190C fan forced.
Bring a kettle to the boil. Place shallots in a large heatproof bowl and pour over the boiling water. After a minute or so, carefully remove the shallots and peel off the skins.
Drizzle oil in a baking dish, scatter over garlic and place the shallots on top. Throw in the thyme sprigs, drizzle with balsamic and 3 Tbsp water. Tuck in the raisins and finish with brown sugar.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the shallots are deeply burnished and sticky.
Remove from oven and serve at the table with salt and pepper to season and a generous dollop of feta.

French lentil and onion soup
Add some French lentils to a traditional onion soup for texture and finish off with zesty lemon and mint.

4 Tbsp butter
4 medium brown onions, peeled and finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1.2 lt vegetable stock, plus extra if required
250g (1 ¼ cups) Puy lentils, washed
handful fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
1 small French baguette, thickly sliced
150g grated Gruyere cheese

Heat a large heavy based pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add sliced onions and cook for 20 until well softened and golden. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes until garlic is soft and translucent.
Add stock and bring to a simmer. Add lentils and simmer over low heat for around 30 minutes or so, until the lentils are tender, but still holding their shape.
Remove from heat and stir in parsley, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper and finish with fresh mint to taste. If the soup is too thick, you can add a little extra stock or water.
To make the cheese croutons, grill the bread on one side, turn and sprinkle with cheese. Grill until cheese melts and turns golden.
Ladle soup into bowls and serve with grilled cheese croutons.
Serve immediately.
Serves 4.

Onion jam
This unusual jam is always a best seller at the local primary school fair. It’s perfect with cheese or simply dolloped on sausages.
1 kg (8 –10) medium brown onions
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 kg sugar
70 g mustard seeds
375ml bottle red wine vinegar
285ml bottle sweet chilli sauce

Peel onions, cut in half and slice thinly.
Place a large heavy based pot over medium heat, add oil and cook onions until softened.
Add sugar and mix until dissolved.
Add mustard seeds, vinegar and sweet chilli sauce.
Increase heat to high and cook until reduced and thickened, approximately 30 minutes.
Pour into sterilized jars, wipe the inside rim with vinegar and seal.

Makes approx. 6 x 250ml jars.

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