As Trinidadians we grew up with onions and garlic in our foods. I still find it hard to believe some people can't take the taste of onions. Research shows the average person consumes about 20 pounds of onions every year. There are white, yellow, and red onions.
I chose onions this week because for the first time I was surprised by successfully growing onions. Surprised because I planted chives! What resulted appear more like a shallot, but enough like an onion; and that's what I'm calling them. Onions, botanically allium cepa, can be grown successfully in Trinidad with care. The Ministry of Agriculture recently reported a joint venture had created a Trini onion.
Hopefully the Trini onion will gain fame. Gourmet onions are grown in the United States in Vadalia, Georgia and Maui, Hawaii. The soil makes them special. The official state vegetable of Georgia is the Vidalia onion. Maui onions are golden yellow, sweet, and juicy. They have high water content, usually weigh a half pound, and are excellent for onion rings.
The onion may be considered a herb, spice or a vegetable. Most cooks consider onions a prime ingredient. Onion comes from the Latin word 'unio' for one since it produces a single bulb. The onion family has many members: chives, scallions, leeks, shallots, with red, yellow, and white onions. We have excellent success with chives and leeks, but red Spanish and yellow Bermuda onions keep us trying. That's part of the fun of the garden; believing the next time it will grow.
The origin of the onion is unknown, but is believed to be the Steppes of Central Asia, or Iran and Pakistan. In Europe, onions were known since the Bronze Age. Onions may have been growing wild on every continent. They became an important food since onions were one of the few foods that did not spoil during the winter. With garlic onion is mentioned in the oldest part of the Bible, desired by the Israelites after leaving Egypt for the Promised Land. Onions were found in the Egyptian tomb of King Tut. Columbus carried onions to the Western Hemisphere and their popularity spread among Amerindians.
Some people shy away from onions because they make you cry. When you cut into an onion, it releases a sulfur compound into the air. When it comes in contact with water it is converted to sulfuric acid that stings your eyes. To stop the tears before chopping chill the peeled onions in the refrigerator and cut into the root end of the onion last. To get the onion smell off your hands, rub with lemon juice or vinegar. To remove the onion scent from your breath chew parsley.
Chives are abundant in gardens throughout Trinidad, although onion growers are scarce. Onions will grow in most soils as long as it is deeply forked with some shade from the heated afternoons. Forking softens the soil so the onion bulb can develop.
Build up the row about six inches higher than the garden and soak the soil. With your finger create an inch-deep groove in the centre of the mounded row. Sprinkle the tiny onion seed sparingly in the groove. Onion seeds are smaller than a pencil point. The best way to plant is to work the seeds through your fingers, dropping as few as possible.
Beware of 'dumping' too many seeds in one part of the row. Once the seeds hit the dirt they are almost invisible. Cover the groove and a few days later lightly sprinkle the rows with water. Do not water heavily as the seeds will wash out. Within ten days sprouts should show. Thin the sprouts to two inches apart.
Weeds will kill the onions, so gently pull any unwelcome visitors. Using a hoe, pull dirt up around the onions. Water lightly three times a week, but more if it is extremely hot. Heat will burn out the stems.
Once the green stem begins to wither and turn brown, the onions are ready for harvest. Pull the onions and dry in a shaded area. Bright sun may discolour the onions. Onions may need more than a week to fully dry.
Eating onions gives some protection against heart disease and colon cancer. They may also reduce the frequency and strength of asthma attacks. It seems the more pungent onions, especially yellow, are better for you as they have more antioxidants. Onions have many anti-inflammatory properties that fight against many illnesses. Chives and green onions contain vitamin A and per half cup only 13 calories with one gramme fibre, and one gramme protein.
Chopped raw, mature onions have sixty calories per cup, 2 grammes fibre, and one-gramme protein, with six grammes carbohydrates. Onions are a good source of vitamin C, chromium, manganese, potassium and phosphorus. Chromium is a trace mineral that helps tissue cells respond appropriately to insulin levels in the blood.
This helps facilitate insulin action and control sugar levels in diabetics. Antioxidants found in onions help keep your immune system working properly. Onions are sodium, fat, and cholesterol free. Studies have demonstrated that onion consumption has the potential to decrease the incidences of osteoporosis.
When buying onions, look for clean, well-shaped ones with no opening at the neck and have crisp, dry outer skins. Avoid those sprouting or have signs of black mould as it indicates age. Onions can be chopped and dried in the oven. Use the lowest setting and remove when thoroughly dry, yet not brown. Store at room temperature in airtight containers. Onions also can be frozen. Chop and place on a tray in the freezer. When frozen, remove and place in freezer containers or bags, and seal.
This way they freeze evenly. This allows you to chop many onions at one time and then remove the amount you want when you need it. Frozen onions should be used for
cooking only. Whole frozen onions can also be baked. Onions may be eaten raw, broiled, boiled, baked, creamed, steamed, fried, French fried, or pickled.
Baked onions stuffed with
spinach and cheese
Ingredients: Two large red Spanish onions — peeled, two tsp oil — prefer olive or canola, one clove garlic minced, two cups spinach chopped small, one tsp lemon juice, quarter tsp fresh ground pepper, quarter-cup seasoned bread crumbs, quarter cup cheese chopped small — cheddar or feta works.
Method: Place whole onions in a large frying pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook about ten to 15 minutes or until onions are almost tender. Drain and cool. Slice bottoms slightly so onions sit upright. First slice onions in half.
Then carefully take a knife and cut the centres of the onions. Scoop out saving the centres. You should have about an inch surrounding the opening. Chop the centre you removed and sauté in oil with the garlic in a medium saucepan about five minutes until tender.
Add the spinach, lemon juice, and pepper; cook until the liquid evaporates. Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs and cheese. Place the onion shells in a greased baking dish and fill the centres with spinach cheese mix. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn off heat, remove foil, and let onions sit in the oven for five minutes before serving.
Fried onion rings
This is a favourite cutter and easy to make once you learn the secret.
Ingredients: Four large white or yellow onions, one cup flour, one cup Carib beer, four cups frying oil, three tbsp sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Blend the flour and beer thoroughly in a large bowl. The batter then must sit covered at room temperature for at least three hours. The batter can be adjusted to be thick or thin by adding more flour or beer.
When ready to use stir in the sugar and seasonings. Slice the onions at least a quarter-inch thick and separate into rings. Heat oil in a deep pot. The oil must be hot enough that when a battered piece of onion is dropped into it, it immediately sizzles.
Dip the onions rings in the batter and drop into the oil. Do not crowd the pot, as the rings will stick together. The onion rings will rise to the top of the oil when they are cooked.
Fry them until golden brown. This can also be done as a 'Blooming Onion'. Slice a whole onion almost crossways all the way through in both directions leaving about a quarter inch at the bottom to hold it together.
Put the entire onion in the batter and fry. Then slice and eat.
Shirley's onion casserole
Ingredients: Two pounds onions sliced a quarter inch thick and separated into rings, one half cup sweet green pepper chopped, one cup evaporated milk, two cups cooked rice, one tbsp cornstarch, two egg whites, one cup cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
Method: Combine milk, cornstarch, egg whites, stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Add seasonings.
Cover the bottom of a greased baking dish with the onions rings. Then cover the onions with an inch of rice.
Cover the rice with a layer of onions and cheddar. Repeat until the dish is filled. Then pour the milk mixture into the dish.
Cover the top with onions and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour.
Did you know?
Libya consumes the most onions per capita at 65 pounds per person every year. Less than 1,000 onion farmers plant at least 125,000 acres in the US in onions every year. The US produces well over 2 million metric tons of onions annually. Yellow onions make up more than 75 per cent of the world's production of onions. Today onions are used in a variety of dishes and rank sixth among the world's leading vegetable crops.
World onion production is estimated at approximately 105 billion pounds each year. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest onion ever grown weighed ten pounds 14 ounces. It was grown in Silsden, England. The ancient Egyptians worshipped the onion, believing that its spherical shape and concentric rings symbolised eternity. In the Middle Ages, onions were so important that they could be used to pay one's rent or given as gifts.