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Published September 02, 2011, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Onions are nutritious as well as full of flavor

“No onions on my sandwich, please,” my 8-year-old daughter said. I was chopping onions and other vegetables as I assembled panini sandwiches to cook on our electric sandwich grill. “How about just a little onion for flavor?” I asked.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“No onions on my sandwich, please,” my 8-year-old daughter said. I was chopping onions and other vegetables as I assembled panini sandwiches to cook on our electric sandwich grill.

“How about just a little onion for flavor?” I asked.

“Remember the customer is always right, and this customer doesn’t like onions!” she exclaimed.

My little “customer” has eaten more finely minced onions without knowing it than she could ever imagine.

“Well, I don’t allow barefoot customers in my kitchen when I create my special sandwiches,” I noted. I was trying to throw her off my culinary trail.

She walked around the side of our cupboard. She pointed at my bare feet, shook her head and grinned at me. I guess I had to follow the rules, too. Obviously, fine mincing wasn’t going to work under my daughter’s watchful eye.

“OK, no onions on your sandwich today,” I said.

Onions are the third most popular vegetable in the U.S. On average, every person in the U.S. eats about 20 pounds of onions annually. Onions are widely used in salsa, soup, sandwiches, salads, main dishes, and appetizers such as onion rings and onion blossoms.

Available in white, yellow and red varieties, onions provide a lot more than flavor. A cup of chopped onion adds just 64 calories to your recipe, along with nearly 3 grams of fiber, plus vitamin C, folate (a B vitamin) and several minerals.

Onions contain some health-promoting antioxidant compounds that are being studied for their role in fighting heart disease, cancer and even osteoporosis and ulcers. “Quercetin” is among the natural antioxidants abundant in onions.

Despite their culinary popularity, onions have a reputation for causing bad breath and crying, not necessarily in that order.

As for the breath issue, you can visit with people who also have been eating onions, or you can try some other remedies. Drinking lemonade, rinsing your mouth with lemon water or chewing on some parsley, a natural breath freshener, have been noted as helpful in reducing halitosis. Or grab your toothbrush and some minty toothpaste and find a sink.

Known for their tendency to promote weeping, onions contain sulfur compounds that might irritate our eyes. To lessen this tendency, the National Onion Association suggests chilling the onions for about 30 minutes before peeling and cutting. Because much of the sulfur compounds are concentrated in the root end of the onion, start by cutting the onion from the tip, and cut the root end last.

Are you ready to try a new onion recipe? If you did some advance planning last spring, your onions are ready for harvesting about now.

When selecting onions at the grocery store, look for firm bulbs without cuts or bruises. For the best flavor, clean and cut the onions as close as you can to their actual use in your recipes because the aroma tends to increase while the flavor decreases after cutting. However, you can safely store chopped onion in a sealed container in your refrigerator for a week.

As we wind down the outdoor grilling season in the Midwest, try this flavorful grilled onion recipe from the National Onion Association. Check out other onion recipes at http://onions-usa.org.


Herb-Buttered Grilled Onion Bloom

1 yellow onion (2½ inches in diameter)*

1½ tsp. butter

½ tsp. dried oregano or thyme

¼ tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled

salt, pepper (optional)

Cut ½ inch off the top of the onion, then peel the outer layer and discard.

Cut the onion into about 12 vertical wedges, leaving the root base intact. Set the onion on a 12-by-10-inch foil sheet. Top the onion with butter and spices.

Add salt and pepper if desired. Wrap foil around the onion, pinching edges together tightly. Place foil package on a rack over medium heat in a barbecue grill and grill for 25 to 30 minutes or until juicy and tender.

If you use a larger onion, adjust the recipe accordingly.

Makes two servings. Each serving has 50 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 1 g of protein, 6 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 0 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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