I have a love/hate relationship with onions. I adore the depth of flavor they add to most dishes, and therefore I use them in curries and stews, veggie burgers and salads. (I stopped myself from adding a chunk of onion to a fruit smoothie this morning. But just barely.) A delicate slice of Walla Walla sweet onion on an avocado, tomato, and pesto sandwich on a warm summer evening? Why yes, I do think so. And don’t even get me started on green onions! Amazing. I especially enjoy them in Asian dishes and potato or pasta salads.
Sadly, there is a dark side to this relationship. I cannot cut an onion without crying like a baby, and me wielding a sharp knife and trying to chop an onion with tears streaming down my face is just not the best combination. So quit whining and buy some onion goggles, right? Wrong. I wear glasses 99% of the time, so all goggles would do is keep my eyes dry. I’d still be — you guessed it– blindly wielding a sharp knife. If you’re ever visiting me during meal prep and offer your assistance, please bring your goggles because you know what I’ll be asking of you. 🙂
Before I get to some helpful suggestions about how to minimize onion-induced discomfort, let me share with you a bit of dicey history about this aromatic bulb. Because the layered, delicate onion doesn’t exactly leave fossils behind, food historians aren’t sure how long humans have been eating onions or exactly where they originated, but we know based on archeological records that onions were consumed in many ancient civilizations, including China, India, Sumeria, and Egypt. As usual, Egyptians took it to the next level. They believed the onion represented eternal life due to its concentric layers, and even included onions in their mummifying and entombment processes. Egyptologists differ in their interpretation of this information; some believe that Ancient Egyptians may have thought the pungent scent could reawaken the dead (onion breath? seems possible), while others argue that the medicinal, magical properties of onions would be helpful in the afterlife. However mummies procured their onions, I think we can all agree on one thing: it’s freaking awesome!
The onion continues its trek through the historical record by showing up in Ancient Roman, Greek, and Hebrew writings. This was a Golden Age not only for democracy, but for the onion! Pliny the Elder wrote that onions could cure mouth-sores, dog bites, diarrhea, insomnia, and toothaches. Further, in an eye-ronic twist (sorry), Roman, Greek, and Indian physicians prescribed onions to cure ailments of the eyes. Say what?! This seems an early example of making onionade out of onions. Which brings me back to onion-induced tears — and how to prevent (or at least temper) this extremely annoying problem.
There are some hilarious pieces of advice out there for how to protect one’s eyes while chopping your onions. My favorites have to be chopping the onion under water or right next to hot steam, which would seriously increase my chances of calling an ambulance before dinner! Here are several serious tips for how to turn your onion-cutting into a more painless experience:
1. Chill your onions. Put them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before cutting or soak in cold water. Does this stun the onion into submission? Not in my experience, but perhaps it will work for you.
2. Use a super sharp knife. (Only you can decide if the benefits outweigh the negatives of investing in a ridiculously sharp professional-grade knife!) Apparently crushing rather than cleanly slicing the cell fibers of the onion releases an enzyme that makes our eyes water. I wouldn’t know.
3. If you can afford such luxury, throw on some onion goggles, or get out those swim goggles you keep swearing you’re going to use at the pool. No one will laugh at you, I’m sure of it.
4. Put a piece of bread in your mouth while you dice and chop. The theory here is that, somehow, the water from your eyes is diverted to your mouth. Hmmm. Not sure how it works, and it did not work for me (or maybe I was crying because I felt so dumb), but many swear by it. Now get in there and cut up some onions!
Baked Onion Rings (adapted from Appetite for Reduction)
- 2 large sweet onions, such as Walla Walla (awww!), but I used red sweet onions today because that’s what I had chillin’.
- 1/2 cup flour (I used gf and added a bit of xanthan gum)
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 T. cornstarch
- 1 t. apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup bread crumbs (I used panko today, shh don’t tell my dad!)
- 1 t. salt, pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice onions into 3/4-1 inch rings, then push them apart using Herculean strength only to have them break into chunks. (Went much better on my second try!) Set aside. Remove your onion goggles and chunk of bread from your mouth, and turn off the hot steam blowing in your face. Stop crying and pull yourself together for step 2.
2. Mix flour and cornstarch together in a shallow bowl, add half of almond milk, then put vinegar in remaining milk and let stand for a minute; throw in rest of almond milk/vinegar combo and stir well.
3. In yet another large shallow bowl, place bread crumbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well. (You could also add some herbs or other fave spices? Just sayin’.)
4. Okay, now you’re ready to get fancy. Take each onion ring and dip it first in the flour mixture, then the breadcrumbs. (By the end I was just willing the breadcrumb mix to stay on the rings, smashing it in ugly clumps and watching it slide gracefully off. This may take some practice.)
5. Place dipped and coated rings on a baking sheet, either with a baking mat or parchment paper. Bake at 450 degrees for about 8 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 8-10 minutes, until crispy and brown and delicious-smelling. Serve with veggie burgers, vegan ranch dressing, ketchup, mustard. . . sky’s the limit you Iron Chef!
These things are so tasty. Definitely mummy-worthy.