By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet
“Life is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” – Carl Sandberg
We have certainly been doing some weeping over the weather, politics and plague! Let’s talk about something we all take for granted but is in almost all of our cooking….behold the humble onion! I’m here to tell you that they are an honest to goodness vegetable full of healthy nutrients and robust flavor that need to be given their just deserves.
This wonderful bulb is one if the oldest edible veggies known to mankind. Onions have been prized throughout history and were found in the tomb of King Tut to take with him to the hereafter. (I mean, what would heaven be like without onions?) They have also been used in traditional medicines since ancient times for their health promoting and curative powers.
Onions, like the well acclaimed garlic, are alliums, which are rich in sulfur containing compounds that are responsible for their pungent, tear provoking fragrance and many health benefits. The onion has been linked to heart health, decreased cholesterol and blood pressure, increased bone density in the elderly and anti-inflammatory benefits. It also has shown anti-diabetic properties and cancer protection.
This modest root that we toss in everything is actually a super food. Who would have known? Most of the onions healthy benefits are concentrated in the outer skin so when peeling your onion make sure and take off as little of the outside skin as possible. Over peeling can result in losing up to 75% of the nutrients in an onion.
To get the most nutrition out of your onion chop them up then let them sit for 5 minutes to allow the allicin in the blub to concentrate. This is because they have an interesting phyto-chemical compound that converts to allicin when the blub is disturbed. Studies have shown that allicin protects the body from cancer and helps lower blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. All of these nutrients found in the onion dispel into whatever you’re cooking, so eat the whole shebang!
There are a bewildering amount of varieties of onions to choose from for your dishes. If one were to pick an onion solely on the health benefits, choose one with strong, bold flavors. The more flavor and fragrance, the more health properties. The “sweet onion” that we all know and love has the lowest nutrition profile where the shallot has the highest. The next in line is the humble yellow onion and the lovely red.
Now the question you’ve all been waiting to have answered; “How does one cut an onion without crying?” I always leave an onion in the fridge cause letting the onion chill helps to reduce the gases that are released from it when you cut it. A chef friend of mine says don’t cut off the root of the onion, that is where the bulk of the enzymes are stored. I tried this and it works sometimes……. But no matter how you cut the onion it is a wonderful, healthy packed vegetable.
As the winter rains fold around us like a blanket and the water is rising, my cooking pots just seem to magically stir up pots of soup. This onion soup is so nurturing and healthy that it fills the dance card with style. It is also very different from French onion soup, which is a welcome respite. But if you are really into French Onion soup go ahead and find a recipe. Enjoy the winter quiet with a warm cup of this soup that will keep you strong as a super hero for whatever is going to happen next!
Chinese 5 spice onion soup
Kombu is a type of kelp that you can get at any health food store. Its nutritional value is outstanding and delicious in this soup. Make this a meal by adding shrimp, chicken or tofu when you add the majority of the ingredients.
3 nice fat yellow onions
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of coconut oil or butter
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 32 oz container of low sodium chicken broth
1 quart of water
1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger
4, 1/4 inch slices of fresh ginger
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
1/4 cup of dried kombu, cut into small pieces (optional)
2 cups of sliced shitake fresh mushrooms
1 tablespoon or more of low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses
Hot sauce to taste, preferably Sriracha
Skin and chop the onions up and let them sit for 5 minutes to let all those health-promoting properties to condense. Take out your favorite heavy bottomed soup pot and melt the oil on medium heat. Toss the onions and minced garlic into the pot and stir till the oil has been distributed among them. Then cook slowly over the medium heat. Resist the temptation to turn it up, we want the onions to get caramelized. Stir every few minutes with a heat resistant rubber spatula making sure to get all the goodies off the bottom of the pan. The onions will start to get toast colored and very fragrant after about 15 minutes. Stir more frequently for 5 more minutes then add the fennel bulb through the mushrooms to the mix.
Bring the soup to a gentle boil over the medium heat then let simmer over a medium low heat, uncovered, for 20 minutes to concentrate the flavors. (The smell of the soup will fill the kitchen with faraway places.) Fish out the star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves and ginger if you can find them. If not, no big deal, just warn people you serve to not bite into them or they will get quite the flavor punch. Season the soup with soy sauce and molasses and serve immediately in beautiful soup bowls.