Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My homage to the greatest vegetable ever.

Onions. Yesterday I realized there should be no other topic to begin my blog. Onions, to me, are the very best that food is. Many of you have heard this story, since to know me is to know my love of onions... but. When I was small, I would beg for slices of onions when my parents were cooking. Apparently, when I was like 3 or so, I was once again begging for onion... my mom couldn't prepare it fast enough for me. She grew impatient with my brattiness and just gave me the full onion after peeling it. I walked away happy as could be munching on a full onion as if it were an apple.

From what I understand, the origin of the onion is a mystery... lots of people say it originated in Asia, but others think Egypt. I guess they're pretty close together so, yea, whatever, that area of the world. There is proof that as early as 3500 BC the Egyptians were worshiping onions and even burying them with their Pharaohs. They felt the rings represented Eternity. When I'm gone, I'd be pretty psyched to have an onion patch growing above the place where my ashes are buried.... I like that eternity idea.

Sandra Cisneros wrote a short story called, Eleven. The narrator is a little girl who is turning Eleven and pondering why it is she still sometimes wants to cry like she's three or sit on her mama's lap like she's five or say something stupid like she's ten... and all of this is "Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion." Yea... Eternity. And if all of that is not enough, onions are thought pretty highly of in the medicinal world as well. Not only are they thought to harbor tons of cancer fighting antioxidants, they also are believed to lower cholesterol. Nice.

So, anyway, I went from eating onions like they were apples to deciding I didn't like them at all. I mean, what seven year old wants to admit they like onions? I'm not sure when I stopped liking them... I feel that the liver and onions we sometimes had for dinner may have had something to do with it, but I'm not sure. I avoided them throughout my young life and really was convinced I didn't like them. Of course, I heard the "ate them like apples when you were little" story constantly.

And then came my job at Sheetz back in 1994. Well, a MTO was made incorrectly and it was just turkey, so my manager offered it to me for lunch. Free lunch? Sure. I checked it out for any vegetables that might offend... all clear, just lettuce. I got about half way through and realized I might be eating the best sandwich ever. I opened it up for closer inspection, trying to figure out what was making this particular MTO so very delicious. Hidden in with the iceberg lettuce shreds were... onions. It was a day I will not forget.

I am pretty thrilled to eat onions raw alone, in salads, on sandwiches, cooked in sauces, soups, you name it... there is not a single preparation of onions that I dislike. However, there is one preparation I feel is superior. Caramelizing.

I'm not saying this is the textbook method, but it's how it's evolved for me, and has even had Scott ask simply for a bowl of caramelized onions for dinner. A man after my own heart.

First, you start with WAY more onions than you want to end up with. In these photos, I used 3 medium sized onions. And yes, type does matter... when caramelizing, I suggest simple yellow onions. Vidalias are also good, of course, because they are sweet to start with... but, really, I am a fan of the simple yellow onion when caramelizing... Cut off the roots, cut them in half, peel away the skins (go as deep as necessary- you don't want the flimsy layers- onions are cheap, peel another if you have to), and cut into half moons.
Use a good bit of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a heavy bottom stainless steel pan. Turn the heat JUST PAST LOW!!! Well, ok, it depends on your stove. For mine, it's going right in between Medium and Low and then turning back almost halfway toward low. Just don't get ahead of yourself. Patience is what it's all about here.
After you have the oil heated, chuck in the onions with a couple good pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir to coat- I recommend a wooden spoon, preferably one with a flat edge. Then leave them alone for a bit. Stir them once in awhile, if you see brown right away, your burner is way too hot. It should be a bit before any brown stuff is appearing. Maybe 15 minutes into cooking. When this happens- and it's so exciting!! You are starting to get there... at the half way point anyway. Just give it a stir every few minutes, and when there is lots of brown on the bottom of your pan (see pic) get a tiny bit of water (or preferably vegetable stock if you have a box open, but either works great) and add a tablespoon or so to the pan, it will steam up and make a great sound and while it's bubbling and excited, use the flat edge of your spoon to scrape up all the brown- that's the tasty good stuff- and allow it to add to the onions, then, let them alone again just stirring every few minutes. When there is a lot of brown stuff again, repeat the whole water/stock thing. They are done when you have half the onions you started with and they are brown and super sweet to taste. I can't stop eating them. I made them only for this post so they have no purpose and I can't stop going over to the stove.

No purpose?! Of course there will be purpose... I will use them for an omelet in the morning, or heat them and add them to the tuna salad I made yesterday, or I could made a simple pasta sauce with a can of tomatoes, garlic, and Italian seasonings... Or. I might just put them in a bowl and serve them as dinner for Scott when he gets home.


  1. Very nice. When I was young, I hated onions. Now I realize I just didn't like the texture of raw onions.

    Caramelizing is something I just started doing lately. Patience is certainly rewarded when you allow your onions to caramelize properly. Nice bit of advice about deglazing your pan during the cooking process.

    Sweet knife, and I love my wooden spoon and spatula, too. Diggin it, KB.

  2. LOVE the reference to "Eleven," I adore that short story.
    What can I say, I knew you loved your onions, but never realized the full extent of your love for this vegetable.
    As far as eating them like apples, only if it was sun-ripened red, and juicy, called a tomato.
    I will have to try to properly caramelize some onions...I must admit, I never have the patience.
    Love the flat-edge wooden spoon.
    Looking forward to the next installment!

  3. Im in love with onions. I put them in everything. I even put them in banana pepper juice or jap juice for a few days and eat them raw. LOL. My kids hate it. As soon as I say dinner is ready..the first question is.... is there onions in it? yep there always is.