Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month Feature: Onions

 

Wouldn't it be great to season your food without adding a lot of fat or salt? Try onions! Their lively flavor ranges from sharp to sweet. In addition to enhancing many different dishes, onions also provide a nutritional boost and tons of fiber.

Varieties

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. Sweet onions are often named after the place they are grown - Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui etc. They have a higher moisture content and do not store as well as yellow onions.

Nutrition

A half cup of cooked chopped onions has only 30 calories, almost 2 grams of fiber, and very little sodium. It is also virtually fat-free. These aspects by themselves would make onions a great way to add zest to your meals, but these tasty veggies offer even more...

Onions have over twenty compounds 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 and storage onions are higher in sulfur compounds than sweet onions. Enhance your meals with plenty of onions, and you'll get a healthful serving of vegetables!

Tips

  • To minimize the eye irritation that accompanies chopping onions, chill the veggies for an hour before slicing. You can also cut them from the top and peel down without slicing the root end, and make sure to chop in a well-ventilated place.
  • If you have a food processor, you can chop several onions at one time and then freeze them in 1-cup portions. Be sure to wrap them well or put them in a sealed freezer container.
  • Worried about onion breath? Chew some parsley, mint, or another bright green herb. The chlorophyll in the herbs will counteract the onion odor. If onion odor lingers on your hands, wash them 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 children like the mellow flavor of cooked onions but are afraid to try them if they see them.

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

Now that we've caught your interest with all that info about onions, why not try this simple and tasty onion soup?

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1 pound yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Directions

  • Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over moderate heat. Make sure to go no higher than moderate heat -- high heat may make the onions slightly bitter. 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 for 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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