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Our love affair with onions

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

On this first week of winter I decided to write about onions. Onions are used in just about every winter meal that requires some degree of cooking; they are cooked more than any other vegetable across the world and - I think - we take them for granted.

When we were young living in Scotland an onion trader (called an onion Johnny), from a country more exotic than ours, would travel door-to door selling onions tied together in strings made from onion skin. My mother always bought a couple of strings and hung them on a door hook inside the larder. Thinking back to these days the idea of a Frenchman (I'm sure he was from France) selling onions door to door is quite charming compared to how we buy them now, loose in bins or prepacked in plastic string bags.

Where would we be without onions?

I thought I'd try and rekindle the romance with onions and help you see that this is no ordinary vegetable, indeed, what would our lives be like without onions?

American writer, Elizabeth Robbins Pennell (February 21, 1855 - February 7, 1936) had this to say about life without onions.

"Banish (the onion) from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends colour and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair."

It's true that onions are smelly and make us cry but that's true of our children when they were young and think about how much we love them. Unlike children, onions don't cost a lot and what we get back from them is much more than we give.

Let's look at what onions offer - aside from a wonderful pungent flavour in food.

Onions for health

Onions belong to the allium family which include leeks, garlic, shallots. They are particularly important in preventing cancer of the stomach but also play a role in maintaining a healthy gut and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. It's the sulphur compounds in onions which bring tears to our eyes but they also prevent tumour growth in the stomach, liver and colon. Onions are also a good source of fructo-oligosaccharides which act as probiotics, repopulating our gut with healthy bacteria which help keep our stools soft and easy to pass.

Onions for dandruff

Onion juice can be used to naturally treat dandruff and prevent hair loss. Evidently the juice kills bacteria on the surface of the scalp, nourishes the scalp and stimulates circulation of blood. Simply grind the onion into a paste, massage the paste over the scalp and wash off after 30 minutes. You can also mix lemon juice into the paste to help neutralise the smell.

Onions for beauty

I haven't tried this but I found it on the internet so it must be true! If you're bothered by dark spots and pigmentation then try getting rid of them with a daily salve of onion juice.

Another inexpensive antioxidant rich face pack can be made from natural yoghurt and onion juice with a drop of essential oil, massaged into the skin for 15 minutes.

Onions for bee stings

A simple slice of onion over a bee or wasp sting will help reduce itchiness and swelling - maybe it will work on mossie bites too - try it and let us know.

How to stop the flow of tears when chopping onions?

To prevent crying while chopping an onion, chill the onion first and cut into the root end of the onion last.

Whole baked onions

Finally, because we've reignited your passion for onions let's finish with a recipe which puts the onion in the spotlight for a change. This is an old recipe modified from The Joy of Cooking cookbook (published in 1931)

4 medium sized onions, washed, skin left on
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 pinch salt
cup, parsley, roughly chopped
30 g parmesan, grated
Cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C
Fill a tray with water about 1 cm deep
Place a rack over the tray and place the onions onto the rack.
Bake in the oven for 1 hours.
Slice the cooked onions at the root ends and discard the outer skins.
Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, paprika and parsley
Pour the dressing over the onions and sprinkle with parmesan
Season with cracked black pepper and serve

"Onion skins very thin, Mild winter coming in. Onion skins very tough, Coming winter very rough."
Old English Rhyme


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