From the most common vegetablesthe common onion (genus allium, Latin for onion) is universal. It grows in most parts of the world and is used in all major cuisines. On average, a person consumes 13.67 pounds of onions one year. I often have them in the pan before I’ve even decided what I’m doing.
Although brown onions (sometimes called yellow onions) are the most widely used, other allium such as white, red, green and pearl onions, as well as leeks, shallots and garlic, are also well represented at mealtimes around the world. As with yellow onions, these aromatics always seem to be in season.
An exception are sweet onions such as Vidalia and Maui (they may have different names, but they are really the same species, although Walla Wallas are a different species than other sweet onions). And they are a different bulb.
Sweet onions have a relatively short season, from April to mid-August (although you can find them on the shelves for a bit longer), so we’re right on target right now. Sweet onions differ in that they contain less of the chemical compounds that make onions so pungent and cause our eyes to turn red and watery, our noses to run, etc. For this reason, according to Russ Parsonthese onions are tame enough to be eaten raw, like any other crunchy vegetable.
Here are some ways to test this theory.
A mix of sweet and smoky homemade ribs brings out the flavors of marinated tomatoes and onions, a refreshing salad also tossed with barbecue sauce and dressing (and raw sweet onions). It goes wonderfully with grilled and roasted meats. The sweet onion, avocado and prawn salad is lightly flavored and both crunchy and creamy with plump prawns that practically burst when you bite into them. Sweet onions complement rather than overpower the delicately flavored shrimp. Serve it as a starter or an aperitif.
A departure from raw salads, Heather’s Caponata – a Sicilian sweet and sour eggplant dish – has you cooking the sweet onion, so here’s your chance to assess whether they taste the same – and are just as tame as other onions. – when cooked.
The salsa that accompanies Little Beast’s Black-Eyed Pea Hummus uses a red onion – sweeter than brown but tangier than candy; however, the hummus itself calls for a Vidalia (feel free to substitute a sweet onion for another name). This unusual twist on the popular chickpea dip is one chef’s effort to give black-eyed peas an audience beyond the southern United States.
Sweet Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwiches combine thin slices of sweet onion and a semi-soft cheese such as brie or taleggio between slices of fine-grain white bread which is then lightly toasted in a skillet on the stovetop . The crunch of toast, the sweet flavor of onion and the ooze of almost runny cheese…yes, there is a God.
Grilled Shrimp Quesadillas have you sautéing sweet onions lightly before stacking them on a tortilla with smoky grilled shrimp, cherry tomatoes and queso fresco. Said tortilla is folded and then slid into a hot skillet to brown, while heating and melting the cheese into a satisfying batter.
A blend of dry spices lends a smoky, sweet flavor to ripe tomatoes in this refreshing summer side dish.
YieldsFor 4 to 6 people
Wedge sliced sweet onions between thick slices of bread with a rich semi-soft cheese and toast.
YieldsFor 6 to 8 people
In this salad of sweet onions, avocado and shrimp, the contrast of textures is very pronounced.
YieldsFor 4 to 6 people
Hoppin’ John inspired Chef Sean Lowenthal’s black-eyed pea and cannellini bean hummus and accompanying salsa.
YieldsMakes 3 ½ cups
Leftover grilled shrimp make easy quesadillas. Fold them into a tortilla with grilled onions, cherry tomatoes and queso fresco and toast them in a skillet until the cheese is melted.
YieldsFor 4 people
Caponata is a savory, sweet and sour Sicilian cooked salad made with eggplant, onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, olive oil and vinegar.
YieldsFor 12 people