Here we are at week four of the 5 Pantry Essentials series. The past few weeks have flown by with so many tasty ingredients and recipes to share. I’ve been busy testing and tasting recipes in my kitchen, trying to decide which ones to post for this series and which ones to put on the back burner to share with you at another time. My favorite so far has been the Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa from last week. It’s super flavorful and colorful….a perfect pick-me-up in the middle of winter!
This week I want to highlight a humble and often overlooked pantry ingredient, one that deserves a second-glance. Drumroll please……..onions.
- Heal with Onions: consumption of any foods in the Allium species (which include garlic, leeks, scallions, and onions) have strong healing abilities for major diseases such as atherosclerosis, cancer of many kinds, and diabetes. Onion extract has, in some studies, also been shown to destroy tumors, tumor cells, and pathogenic growths.
- Lower Blood Sugar: onions may have a blood-sugar lowering effect, one that is comparable to some drugs and medications given to diabetics. It is believed that the flavonoids in onions (particularly quercetin) contribute to this effect. In addition, onions have been known to prevent blood clot formation and lower overall blood pressure.
- Anti-Bacterial and Anti-Inflammatory: along with quercetin, onions contain other flavonoids that help to kill harmful bacteria in the body. Add onions to soups, stews, and salads in the winter months when colds and flus are at their peak to help support immunity. Not only are onions anti-bacterial, but they are also anti-inflammatory and therefore helpful for those suffering from joint pain and arthritis. Onions contain compounds that inhibit the enzymes that cause inflammation, stopping it before it starts.
What Makes it Essential
The lowly onion often takes a backseat role in cooking, serving as nothing more than the base of a soup stock or pasta sauce. But it’s this “behind the scenes” role that gives onions their essential quality. Have you ever tried making an onion-less marinara sauce or a pot of warming soup with no onions at all? Chances are the end result lacked a layer of flavor and depth that only onions can provide.
When you need to add some zing to a salad, nothing does the trick quite like a few rings of red onion. This time of year, when soups and casseroles frequent the dinner table, onions are an absolute must. I use them daily in my cooking and rarely start a sauce or soup without them. To keep turkey meatballs moist without adding eggs or breadcrumbs, I rely on a combination of fresh herbs and finely chopped red onion. This keeps the lean meat flavorful and prevents that dry, crumbly texture common with overcooked poultry.
The best part is that onions keep forever in a dark pantry or even in a bowl on the countertop. Eventually they’ll start to sprout if they are exposed to long periods of daylight, but it will be weeks (or probably months) before that starts to happen. They are easy to store and buy in bulk, too. In the late autumn, farmer’s markets often sell 5 , 10, or even 15 pound bags of onions for just a few dollars. Stock up while you can!
It’s hard to come up with a recipe for something other than French onion soup that really showcases onions as the star ingredient. Today’s recipe for Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip doesn’t “scream onion” at you when you take a bite but certainly does offer a layer of savory-sweetness that can only come from caramelizing onions until they begin to wilt and brown in the skillet. The onions are pureed with hearty chickpeas and some fresh herbs and lemon juice to brighten it all up, turning it into a knockout dip perfect for adding to vegetable platters, topping crostini, or serving with whole grain pita chips or flatbread for dipping.
Caramelized Red Onion and Chickpea Dip
2 tbs. olive oil
1 medium red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
1/4 cup parsley leaves
Juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and saute until beginning to get tender, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook—stirring occasionally—until onions are soft, wilted, and brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes more. Stir in garlic, dried herb blend, and chickpeas; cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat.
In a food processor fitted with the S-blade, process onion and chickpea mixture with parsley, lemon juice, and salt and pepper until smooth and spreadable in consistency.
Can be refrigerated up to 3 days before using, although flavor is superior if used within 1-2 days. For a pretty garnish, top with a few whole chickpeas and a sprig of parsley before serving.
Next Tuesday we’ll wrap up the Pantry Essentials series with a fifth and final ingredient, one that’s super tasty and versatile. Don’t miss it!