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Bet you can’t. How many times do you start a recipe with sautéed onions? There, I rest my case. 

But onions don’t have to be just there to garnish or to give a taste to a dish; they can be the main ingredient, the star of the dish. In expert hands (not my hands), onions can turn from merely an ingredient into a meal. Think about an appetizer like onion rings or a soup like French onion soup. Undeniably onions play the lead role there.

Thinking along those lines, I posed a challenge to myself when I saw onions on sale for $1 a bag. Making a meal consisting of mostly onions. These self-imposed challenges have become recurring events in my kitchen. I’m not complaining, I actually love them. If recipes don’t turn out well, they’ll be forgotten and you’ll never hear of them. But when they do turn out well, I declare myself the winner and collect the trophy. An imaginary one, but it’s real. In my head.

So, once again I judged myself the winner of this particular challenge. Yay! Look at these onion recipes and tell me, can you live without onions?

stuffed onions
Stuffed Onions

This is another Ottolenghi recipe. Is there any other who can do with vegetables as well as he? I followed the directions pretty much, except where I noted.

3 cups vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups white wine
4 large onions
3 small tomatoes
3/4 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
2/3 cup feta, crumbled
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
Butter for greasing

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Prepare a buttered oven-proof dish.
3. Put the stock and white wine into a medium-sized saucepan, bring up to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
4. Trim off the top and bottom of the onions, then cut them in half lengthways. Remove the skin and carefully take out most of the insides, keeping only two or three layers of the outer skin of each onion intact.
5. Carefully separate the outer layers from each other and place, a few at a time, in the simmering stock. Cook for three to four minutes, until just tender, then drain well and leave to cool slightly. Repeat until all the onion has been blanched. Turn off the heat and keep the stock on one side.

Note:
Somehow I found it hard to separate the onion layers without tearing them, so I did this instead:

stuffing onions

I cut a sliver of the onion on one side, then plunge the whole onions in the simmering stock. And with a pair of tongs, pull off the layers as they loosen, much like what you do when you make stuffed cabbage. Much easier. And you get to use wider pieces of onion for rolling as well as the tender inner layers. The outer layers tend to be tough.

Also, I’m not sure how much flavor the wine really added to the dish, so I’m thinking you can do without. If there’s one criticism I have of Ottolenghi is that sometimes I feel his list of ingredients esoteric. This time it isn’t, just wasteful on the wine. You’re better off drinking the wine as you’re cooking. 🙂

6. Finely chop about one-third of the insides of the onions (About 1½ cups of choped onions.) The rest you will need to keep and use up in another dish.
7. To make the stuffing, use a coarse cheese grater to grate the tomatoes into a large bowl (you will be left with most of the skin in your hand; discard it). Add breadcrumbs, feta, parsley, oil, garlic, spring onion, chopped onion, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Note:
The only thing I did differently here was that I sautéed my chopped onions first.

8. Fill each onion skin with stuffing. Pull the sides together so that you end up with a fat cigar shape. Place seam-side down in the buttered dish.
9. Pour over about ⅓ cup of the stock, just enough to cover the bottom of the dish.
10. Bake for about 40 minutes, until soft and lightly coloured, with the stuffing bubbling. If the stock dries up during cooking, add a little more. After 40 minutes, take out onions, drizzle a little honey and dot with butter, return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes. (This part is all me. I like that caramelized look on the onions.)

onion bahjis
Onion Bhajis

So, so delicious! This one is a must try, if you don’t mind deep-frying. Along with the stuffed onions and basmati rice, these bhajis make for a perfect vegetarian meal.

4 cups thinly sliced onions
1 green chile (optional), seeded and thinly sliced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (or parsley if you don’t like cilantro)
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp curry powder
Salt & pepper
2/3 cup besan flour (aka garbanzo bean flour)
1/3 cup rice flour
1/2 cup water

1. Mix all the ingredients together. It’s okay if mixture appears dry. You’re not making a batter, you just want everything to bind together so it doesn’t fall apart as it fries. I like mine loosely formed and irregular-shaped.
2. Drop by the spoonfuls into hot oil and fry until golden brown, flipping a couple of times.
3. Drain on paper towels. Served with chutney or raita.

onion & smoked gouda pizza
Onion & Smoked Gouda Pizza

Everybody was so good eating the vegetarian meal without complaint that I decided to reward them with a pizza. Still with onions. But it’s a pizza, that’s all that matters.

Pizza dough
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
5-6 slices bacon
2 cups shredded smoked Gouda (or mozzarella, if you prefer. I just happened to have gouda.)
Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Parsley

1. Preheat oven to 425° F.
2. Chop bacon slices and fry to render some of the fat. Drain and discard fat.
3. Sauté onions until translucent but not brown.
4. Roll your dough, and start layering the toppings, starting with the cheese, onions, bacon, and tomatoes. You can sprinkle a little more cheese on top.
5. Bake for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle top with parsley as soon as it comes out of the oven.

***

Speaking of onions, it reminds me of the time I was expecting my second child. Somehow the smell of onions made me sick, sicker than my morning sickness sick. We ordered in one night, fried rice from a nearby Chinese restaurant. Of course I requested no onion. When my husband came back with the food, I saw that he had been charged $3 for the “no onion.” I started bawling! Yes!

I told my husband to go back to the restaurant and demand the $3 back, even though he kept telling me not to sweat it. After all, it was only $3. You know the expression “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? Well … obviously whoever coined that had not met a slighted pregnant woman. He did get his $3 back, and an apology.

I’m embarrassed thinking about it now. Whatever compelled me to react in such a manner? Must be hormones.

Onion plants, by the way, take a long time to mature. From seeds to bulbs, it can take up to 8 months. I know because I planted them a couple of years ago. I started the seeds in January and the onions didn’t get into harvest size until August. That’s the reason I haven’t planted onions ever again. But now that I’m talking about it, I feel like giving it another go. I’ll look into a fast maturing variety, if there is one. Does anybody know?

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