Liven it Up With Onions

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 enhances many dishes, and provides a nutritional boost to boot - high-fiber, low-calorie onions count as a vegetable.

There are many different onion varieties on the market. Onions can be classified as either storage onions or sweet onions. Storage onions, such as the common yellow onion, have a sharp flavor, thick skin and a 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 they are grown - Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui. They have a 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 is virtually fat-free. That by itself would make it a great way to add zest to your meals, but onions offer more than that.

Over twenty compounds in onions have been identified that may help prevent heart attacks and stroke, fight cancer and stave off infection. Sulfur compounds (the same substances that irritate your eyes) and a flavonoid called quercetin are two of the most powerful of these substances.

Yellow and red onions have the most quercetin of any common food. Storage onions are higher in sulfur compounds than sweet onions. So enhance your meals with plenty of onions, and get a healthful serving of vegetables!

• To minimize crying that comes with chopping onions, chill them an hour before slicing. Cut them from the top and peel down without slicing the root end. Chop in a well-ventilated place.
• Save time and tears! If you have a food processor, chop several onions at one time and then freeze in 1-cup portions. Wrap well or put in a sealed freezer container.
• Worried about onion breath? Chew some parsley, mint, or other bright green herb. The chlorophyll in the herbs will counteract the onion odor.
• 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, then saute in a nonstick pan with a teaspoon of oil over moderate heat. Stir frequently.
• Kids don't like onions? Puree them into a sauce or broth. Sometimes they like the mellow flavor of cooked onions but are afraid to try them if they see them.
• Even if a recipe doesn't call for onions, consider adding them - or adding more onions than called for.
Fun facts
• Onions are related to lilies. Just like many spring flowers, onions are bulbs.
• Slice an onion crosswise and you'll see circles nested inside each other. Ancient Egyptians saw this continuing pattern as a symbol of eternity.
• 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 Recipe
2 Tbsp oil
1 pound yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth, preferably low sodium
Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over moderate (not high!) heat. (High heat may make the onions slightly bitter, but long, slow cooking brings out their sweetness.) Add the onions and sugar and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are a rich caramel color, about half an hour. Stir in the thyme and pepper and sauté one minute more. Add the broth and let the soup simmer at least 15 minutes.

Serves 6. Each 1 cup serving: 91 calories, 4.5 g fat, .5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 162 mg sodium, 7 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, 6 g protein.
By Cheryl Sullivan, MA, RD.

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