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Onions: The kitchen workhorse…

As a reliable workhorse of the kitchen, the humble onion can sometimes be overlooked. While it features in countless meals from all corners of the globe, this hardy ingredient never truly gets its time to bask in the spotlight. However, what the onion lacks in top bill headlining, it more than makes up for with its integral role in a myriad of dishes. If the onion was up for an award, it would easily bag the Oscar for Best Supporting Role. Having propped up dishes from India to the American south, we owe a lot to this superhero of the kitchen.

As any prep cook or kitchen porter will know, you get through an incredible number of onions when knocking up the mirepoix. The foundation to a huge swathe of classic French dishes as a ratio of two parts onion to 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. Over the other side of the Atlantic, onions feature in a slightly different mirepoix used in Cajun and Creole cuisine, the ‘Holy Trinity’ consisting of equal parts diced onion, diced celery, and diced peppers.

Up until now, we’ve only covered some of the base note roles that the onion delivers, but this vibrant bulb is capable of so much more as the Mexicans know only too well. Pico de Gallo, the refreshing salsa found throughout the national cuisine harnesses the bright power of onions that works with tomato, lime juice and coriander to become more than just the sum of its parts.
You’ll also find red onions being showcased in a pretty mouthwatering way over in Mexico. The purple colour dissipated into a pale pink tinge that bleeds through the sliced onions thanks to pickling in lime juice and vinegar.

Of course, red onions find home in a wealth of Italian dishes too, often less harsh and softer than their white counterparts. This makes them perfect for salads and raw preparations – sliced wafer thin they work remarkably with tomatoes, cannellini beans and good quality tuna as a crostini topping.

It would be unfair to talk about the onions prowess, without mentioning French onion soup. This warming autumnal favourite is a venerable showcase of the onion and all that it can do, bringing together some of its caramelised flavours alongside its deep savouriness. What’s more is that this dish most often brings in one of the onions greatest bedfellows, cheese.

From the cheese and onion toasty, to how these two ingredients make magic when placed together atop a burger, this is a combination that needs no introduction. This relationship can be explored through salads containing raw red onion and feta, as well as slowly caramelised onions adorning a cheese-laden pizza from the wood oven.

It’s frightening to think where we’d be if the onion was removed from our culinary pyramid, which is why it’s one of the most frequently ordered produce lines in commercial kitchens. Celebrate the onion, explore it, it holds more secrets than you know.