Enhance food flavor with onion

August 06, 2008|By LYNN LITTLE

Wouldn't it be great to season your food without adding a lot of fat or salt? Try adding onions. Their lively flavor ranges from sharp to sweet and they will enhance many dishes, plus provide a nutritional boost.

High-fiber, low-calorie onions count as a vegetable. There are many different onion varieties on the market. They are classified as either storage onions or sweet onions.

Storage onions, such as the common yellow onion, have a sharp flavor, thick skin and low moisture content. These can be kept for many weeks in a cool, dry place. Store them in a single layer for longer life.

Sweet onions are mild in flavor because they have been bred to be higher in sugar and lower in pungent sulfur compounds than storage onions. Sweet onions are often named after the place where they are grown - Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui. They have higher moisture content and do not store as well as yellow onions.


A half cup of cooked, chopped onions has only 30 calories, almost 2 grams of fiber, very little sodium and virtually no fat. Researchers have identified more than 20 compounds in onions that promote health, including preventing heart attacks and stroke, fighting cancer and staving off infection.

To minimize the teary eyes that comes with chopping onions, chop in a well-ventilated place. Chill them an hour before slicing. Cut them from the top and peel down without slicing the root end.

Save time and tears. If you have a food processor, chop several onions at one time and then freeze in one-cup portions. Wrap well or put in a sealed freezer container.

If you worry about onion breath, try chewing some parsley, mint or other bright green herb afterward. The chlorophyll in the herbs counteracts onion breath.

If onion odor lingers on your hands, wash with vinegar or lemon juice.

Onions develop a wonderful flavor with long, slow cooking. Slice onions into rings or half moons. Saut in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of oil over moderate heat. Stir frequently.

Pure sauted onions into a sauce or broth. They add mellow flavor without being visible.

The skin of yellow onions can be boiled in water to make a dye for eggs or yarn. You can also add the yellow peels to the stockpot to deepen the color of broth or soup.

Easy onion soup

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 pound yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

Heat the oil in a large pot over moderate heat. (High heat might make the onions slightly bitter, but long, slow cooking brings out their sweetness.) Add the onions and sugar. Saut, stirring frequently, until the onions are a rich caramel color, about 30 minutes. Stir in the thyme and pepper. Saut 1 minute more. Add the broth and let the soup simmer at least 15 minutes.

Serves 6.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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