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Zox Kitchen

Zox Kitchen: February 8, 2013

The Onion: The Multifaceted Vegetable

There’s hardly a dish that doesn’t start with onions, but they also have their own role to play as a vegetable. If you’re not using them with stock or broth, they are special by themselves or in combination with other vegetables. I enjoy eating them caramelized on pizza, sandwiches or with eggs. Shallots are so divine when sautéed till crisp with green beans. Cauliflower. tomatoes in August or minced in salad dressing. Vidalia, Maui and Walla Walla onions are so sweet that you can eat them raw. I prefer them that way. They are almost too sweet to cook. And leeks cleaned carefully after cutting them in half vertically are wonderful braised alone in your favorite stock with a little sea salt and ground black pepper. Julia Child made this dish famous.       

But onions can be unpleasant when peeling or chopping them. Wearing glasses or using a sharp knife will mitigate the tear-inducing chemical released into the air. This substance, called allicin combines with the moisture in our eyes to form a weak solution of sulfuric acid. But onions are worth a little pain.

In cooking school I was directed to make green pea soup by sautéing several large white onions till they began to caramelize but not brown. My eyes began to water from cutting the onions into thin slices so I ran to the sink to splash water on my face only to return to a large pan of very brown onions—not the preferred color for pea soup. I learned my lesson. Onions are sensitive fellows and if left to their own devices, will become something ideal for French Onion soup but not for pea soup.

Jacques Pépin, the celebrated TV chef and cookbook author, has a healthy alternative to the original French onion soup. But first the original: it calls for cooking onions long enough over high heat to become a rich, dark brown color. Along with chicken or beef stock, Chef Pépin, tops each soup bowl with 2-3 toasted baguette slices with some grated Gruyere cheese in a 400-degree oven until the cheese on top is crusty and brown. In contrast, he offers another version with far fewer calories—but alas, without the bread and cheese.


Jacques Pépin Onion Soup with Vermicelli  - Serves 4

1 tablespoon corn oil

4 medium onions (1 pound total) peeled and thinly sliced

6 cups light stock (chicken or beef stock or combination of both)     

3/4 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper   

2/3 cup (2 ounces) vermicelli ( angel hair pasta) 

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives


Heat the oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the onions and sauté them over medium high heat for 10-12 minutes, until they are a soft and rich, dark brown color. Add the stock, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, cover, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Divide among four bowls, sprinkle with chives and serve.