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Onions and Their Ilk*

Red Onion by John Raven, Ph. B.

Onions come from a large family. Included, as their close relatives, are garlic, chives, shallots and leeks. They all belong to the family allium. Also included in the family are a number of flowering plants such as the amaryllis.

The onion is used in more recipes than any other ingredient, with the possible exception of salt. No TV chef worth his or her ratings would dare produce a program that did not include chopping and sauting a batch of onions.

Texas cuisine makes good use of the onion. Wild onions can be found growing along streams in most of the state. The wild variety of onion is small, seldom making a bulb larger than a grape, but they are very pungent. I've never had any success getting wild onions to grow in my garden. I guess they were just born to be wild.

Types of Onions

Onions come in three basic varieties, red, white and yellow. The yellow onion is the most pungent of the three, having lots of the fumes that make your nose run and your eyes water while you are working with them. The yellow onion was very popular with earlier Texans, who raised them because they would store well. Once dried, the yellow onion would keep for months in a cool dry place. The red onion has a milder flavor than the yellow, and it also keeps well. The white onion, having a mild, sweet taste, is the most popular.

The white onion is the favorite on most tables. Three US states have specialized white onions that each state claims to be the best. The state vegetable of Georgia is the Vidalia onion. The Vidalia is grown, of course, at Vidalia, Georgia, and is a large, sweet, rounded bulb. Haiwaii has its Maui onion, with a flatter shape, but as sweet and crisp as they come. Texas has its 1015 onion, which grows to great size and is featured in season at all the markets.

Onions are eaten in a number of ways. You can have your onions raw, boiled, broiled, stewed, pickled, fried, dried, dehydrated, flaked or powdered.

The Raw and the Cooked

Texas has its 1015 onion, which grows to great size. Raw onions go well in a number of situations. Red onion rings add crunch, flavor and eye appeal to a green salad. And what would a burger be without its slice of onion? A hot dog is wimpy without the chopped onions. Great barbecue demands that you have cold onion rings and pickles at hand.

Something changes in the chemistry of the onion when it is cooked. The acrid taste becomes sweet as sugar. Nothing complements a good steak like a dish of sauted onions. They are very simple to make. Just put a little butter in a heavy skillet and saut your sliced onions until they are limp. Season with a little salt and pepper. You can add a little mild paprika to give them a lovely color.

Crunchy fried onion rings are a favorite everywhere.

Grilled onions go with any meat you prepare on the grill or in the smoker. My favorite way of preparing onions for the grill is this:

Get as many onions as you think you need. Large white ones are best. Peel the bulb. Cut a thin slice off the top and bottom so they will sit upright. From the top, make four or more cuts down toward the bottom, but not all the way through. Number of cuts depends on the size of your onions. Carefully separate the inner slices from each other. Put a large pat of butter on top so it will melt and run down into the onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. Take some foil and make a cup for the onion leaving the top open to absorb the smoke flavor. When the onion is nearly done, brush some of your favorite barbecue sauce on top. The onion is done when it is soft to the squeeze.

Helpful Hint: When you are going to use onions on your skewers for shish-ka-bobs, parboil the onions in salted water until they are tender. This way they will be done when the rest of your "bob" is ready.

My Favorite Onion Recipe

My favorite onion recipe for accompanying barbecue does not have a name as of this writing. My Uncle Theodore Roosevelt Raven introduced me to this recipe years ago, so perhaps calling the recipe "Uncle Ted's Onions" would be appropriate.

In a heavy skillet, saut in a generous amount of butter white onions that have been separated into rings. When the onions are limp and transparent but not browned, add a cup of catsup, a teaspoon of yellow mustard, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and a teaspoon of black pepper. Keep stirring until all the rings are well coated with the sauce. Add enough water to get the consistency you want; it should be a little on the thick side. One teaspoon at a time, stir in sugar until you get the sweet-sour taste you like. Top off with a generous shake of hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco, and let simmer a few minutes. Serve warm with lots of white bread for sopping.

We've dealt with onions this time. Maybe we can get a whole column out of garlic, leeks, chives and scallions in the near future. In the meantime, enjoy the onions and don't forget the breath mints.

More recipes with onions

* ilk, name for baby elk

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