The mighty onion might be the single most taken-for-granted vegetable in the basket. This kitchen staple is the mainstay of many cuisines, an essential flavor for countless meals. Like many essentials, it rarely receives its just acknowledgement for its contribution. In the list of world class cuisines, the onion plays a pivotal character role in each one. The most elegant of Chinese, Middle Eastern, French, Italian and New American gastronomies owe the onion a debt.
In all its many forms, the onion is a member of the Lily family. Its cultivation predates recorded history. Archeological science tells us that since the first bone, piece of stone or antler was made to scratch a tilled row in the earth, the common diet across many peoples and places consisted of bread, beer and onions. Onion traces have been found in Bronze Age settlements dating to 5,000 BC. One early onion story tells of a Sumerian governor along about 2400 BC who was caught using temple oxen to plow his personal onion fields. Fields which had previously been the best of that temple’s gods and which he had recently sold to himself for the temple’s benefit. Political chicanery appears to be as old as politicians.
The onion has and has had many devotees. Arabs believe it increased the fortitude of lovemaking. It was also given credit as a meteorologist when there was a claim that the thickness of its papery skin could predict the severity of the coming winter. Its vegetable prowess continues in modern times. There is a duly registered Parisian religious sect called the Worshippers of the Onion. I’d be curious to know what their membership qualifications entail.
I confess to having a veritable library of food reference material. Then there’s the internet. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to find a consensus on the defining characteristics of each type of onion. My best efforts have yielded the following:
Our website is chock full of good ideas for and with onions, including: Onion Bisque, Blood Oranges, Red Onion and Fennel Salad, Summer Squash and Onion Gratin, and a Bacon and Onion Crustless Tart. This week, however, we are going back to basics with our favorite recipe for Caramelized Onions, great for topping a hamburger, a side dish, in an omelet, a quiche, a one pot chicken dish and on and on. Be warned, though, that you might find yourself just forking it directly into your mouth.