It used to be there were just a few onions carefully rotating themselves each week in my root vegetable basket forming a beautiful symbiosis with the potatoes, parsnips, turnips and beetroot residing within. Together, they made beautiful, mouth-watering dishes with a mere dollop of butter and a slow roast in the oven.
But that was winter, and this summer there’s been a steady supply of onions, the quality of which has been amazing. I should also add – they’ve been accumulating all by themselves and filling the basket to overflowing. My initial reaction was to move the basket to conspicuous locations (beside the stove, near the window, in the middle of the kitchen table) in the hope that I would be duly inspired, but this backfired. They began to remind me how much I hated them as a child, and I started to use them less often and in smaller quantities – more like a bit of flavouring than an actual vegetable. I became disappointed every time I saw a box with another small pile of onions at the bottom of it.
Then it all changed. I was forwarded an email from Alicia – the amazing lady who looks after all the grocery section of the biz – who extolled many virtues of onions including: laughing at them, sharing them with friends and neighbours, leaving them in a swap box at your food host location and pickling them to give as gifts. I was impressed with the array of options available to the non-onion eater and it served as a bit of a wake-up call…. I actually don’t hate onions! In fact I like them, and I LOVE to cook. I began to see the error of my ways and made moves to embrace my renewed relationship with the allium.
Here are some of the best things I have done with onions in the last few months:
Tortilla Espanol – easily uses 2 large onions and a whack of potatoes (if those are your “bug bear”). Learned while living in Spain several years ago and re-learned again thanks to a recent tortilla competition when I realised I had lost my edge… and got it back.
Ingredients: Olive oil – 2 onions, thinly sliced – 5 potatoes, thinly sliced – 5 cloves garlic, minced – 6 eggs – salt and pepper to taste
Over a low flame, pre-heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a nonstick pan and gently cook the onions until they begin to caramelize.
Add the garlic and cook for 5 mins more.
Drain the onion and garlic mixture, reserving the olive oil, and set aside.
Put the oil back in the pan and add the sliced potatoes in batches (you can directly slice the potatoes into the pan – or pre-slice and add them a little at a time) so that you have some really soft potatoes and some firm ones. Once the last potatoes are almost cooked, add the reserved onions and garlic and combine in the pan.
Beat the eggs with the salt and pepper (you could add any number of herbs and spices – paprika works nicely) and pour over the potato mixture.
Cook without stirring until the top is almost set. Then cover with a dinner plate and flip it over quickly. Slide it back into the pan and cook for a few minutes until it is completely set. It’s done! Flip it back out onto a plate and serve hot or cold with a baguette.
The secret to this recipe is to cook everything as slowly as possible and don’t be afraid to use much more olive oil than you might be comfortable with.
Cough Syrup – slice an onion, soak it in honey for a day. Spoon it into a coughing mouth – works wonders (credit goes to my partner Mel the Naturopath, for both introducing me to this one, and preparing it).
Eggplant, Mushroom and Spinach Pie – I don’t actually know what to call this, I just made it up last night. It’s based on Banitsa (pronounced with a thick Bulgarian accent), which is a dish that a very good Bulgarian friend of mine makes. This dish is mostly cheese and eggs… wonderful. Actually, this is nothing like her Banitsa, but when I asked her how to make it vegan and she said to uses lots and lots of onions.
Ingredients: 4 onions diced – 10 cloves garlic, minced – olive oil – 150g mushrooms, chopped – 1 eggplant, peeled and chopped – 1 tsp sea salt – 1 Tbsp oregano – 400g spinach leaves – 1/4 cup kalamata olives, diced – 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (optional) – 1 Tbsp dried rosemary, crushed – 375g ricotta cheese – 1/2 package filo pastry
Over medium flame, fry the onions until soft, add the mushrooms and garlic – cook until mushrooms release their liquid. Add the eggplant and salt and cook until just soft. Set aside.
Wilt the spinach in a pan, covered with a little water (I used the juice from the olives) for about a minute or 2. Drain, roughly chop and place in a bowl with the olives, yeast flakes, rosemary and ricotta. Mix well.
Lightly coat a baking dish with olive oil. Add a sheet of filo and brush with oil. Layer 2 sheets at a time coating every second sheet lightly with olive oil until you have at least 8 sheets covering the bottom of the dish, leaving the top layer un-oiled. Spread the onion-eggplant mixture evenly over the pastry. Layer 2 more sheets of pastry on top without oil. Spread the spinach ricotta mixture on top, then finish with 6-8 more sheets of filo pastry – oiling every second sheet including the top one.
Bake at 190 degrees for 40 minutes. Cool for at least 10 mins and serve.
I’ve strayed a long way from the original onion-filo base. Last night I made a crazy version with ricotta, spinach and lots of veg while still using at least 4 onions…I’m almost out of onions and I still have 3 days before I get another CERES Fair Food box!