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An ovation for onions

BY JENNIFER KORNEGAY
STYLING/PHOTOS BY BROOKE ECHOLS

While they are sometimes overlooked, when it comes to the workhorse role they play in many recipes, onions deserve a standing ovation.

In Alabama, we celebrate favorite foods like strawberries, peaches and shrimp with entire festivals. We post photos of perfectly ripe tomatoes on social media, and those photos get more “likes” than pictures of our kids. We attach astronomical value to a bushel of shelled lady peas. But what about the humble onion? While it’s an integral part of numerous Southern classics, it rarely receives the praise that it deserves. Onions aren’t pretty like a handful of plump indigo blueberries or a brilliant red wedge of watermelon. They’re not sweet like corn or subtle like pale yellow squash. They’re plain, a little haggard-looking; they taste strong and sharp and sometimes, harsh.

Some folks don’t like them at all, and even among those who do, they play only bit roles in wishful wintertime dreams of summer’s harvest. When cooking, we usually relegate them to support roles; they’re only one element in a menagerie of background flavors used to embellish something else. These multiple layers of disdain leave the onion overlooked and often left off the lists of important or beloved Southern flavors.

Yet, like the song lyric, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” points out, remove the onion from your kitchen, and you begin to better appreciate it. Imagine a squash casserole without onion. Bland. Almost any soup or stew sans that diced and sautéed onion: definitely missing something. Some of the greatest gravy you’ve ever had was likely built on the onion’s firm foundation. There’s a good chance a little grated onion is the secret to your favorite pimento cheese. 

And while they are essential in these roles, onions can stand on their own, too. Try out some of this issue’s reader-submitted recipes that unlock the onion’s depth and complexity and put them center stage. 


Cook of the Month
Louis Rowles, Baldwin EMC

Louis Rowles enjoys entertaining dinner guests, and his menus for entertaining evenings often include his Tiny Onion Pies. The former French teacher spent some time in France and discovered the treat there. He brought the recipe home, fiddled with it a bit to make it his own and adapted it for U.S. measurements. The petite onion pastries maintain their high spot on his cooking roster thanks to a power combo of ease and deliciousness. “They are simple to make, and people always seem to love them,” he said. “I often serve them as a hot appetizer, especially in the winter.”

Tiny Onion Pies

Crust:

1 stick butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1¼ cups all-purpose flour

Mix together to form a soft dough. Roll into walnut size balls and place into mini muffin tins. Press to form small shells. Makes around 24.

Filling
3 large sweet onions, peeled and very thinly sliced or shaved
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup heavy cream

Place thinly sliced onions into a large skillet with the 2 tablespoons of butter. Fry onions over medium heat until very browned and greatly reduced and caramelized. Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Combine the beaten eggs and cream until smooth. Combine onions and cream mixture. Spoon enough filling into each shell to fill to just within the top. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes until browned and puffed. Serve hot as an hors-d’oeuvre or appetizer. 


Onions n’ More Meat Loaf

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced in separate rings
1½ pounds lean ground beef
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with onion and peppers
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup dry oats
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon A-1 sauce

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In large bowl mix beef, tomatoes, egg and oats; set aside. Spread a solid layer of onion rings in bottom of an 11×14-inch baking dish. Pour in beef mixture and spread evenly, leaving ¼-inch border all around. Place remaining onion rings on top. Don’t overlap. Mix ketchup and A-1 sauce. Drizzle over top. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until brown.

Barbara Frasier, Sand Mountain EC


Onion Rings

Onions
Milk
Flour
1 egg, beaten
Cracker crumbs
1½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Beat egg and whisk in Dijon mustard, thyme, salt and pepper, oregano, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Slice onion and separate into rings. Dip rings into each of the following in this order: milk, flour, egg mixture and then cracker crumbs. Place on baking sheets to dry. Let dry overnight. Preheat vegetable oil in a deep fryer. Cook rings in small amounts until golden brown.

Karyl Stockinger, Pea River EC


Grilled Blooming Onion

Sauce:

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Onion:

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
4 sweet Vidalia onions, peeled with root end intact
Fresh chopped parsley

Preheat grill over medium-high. Make sauce: In a small bowl combine: mayonnaise, sour cream, ketchup, Worcestershire, paprika and cayenne. Season with salt. Make seasoning. In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, paprika, cayenne, and Italian seasoning. Season with salt. Cut stem off onion and place flat side down. Cut 1/2″ from the root down, into 12 to 16 sections, making sure not to cut through root. Flip over and pull sections of onion out gently to separate petals. Sprinkle all over with cheese-spice mixture. Drizzle onions with oil and grill covered until tender and lightly charred, about 15 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with dipping sauce.

Misty Allbright Roberson, Cullman EC


Holiday Creamed Onions

¾ cup water
2 cups pearl onions
¼ cup butter
1½ cups whole milk, cold
¼ cup Wondra flour (other flour may cause lumps)
2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon salt

Bring ¾ cup salted water to a boil. Add onions and cook 5-10 minutes until tender. Drain onions reserving 1/2 cup water in the saucepan. After draining, return the onions to the pan and add butter, milk, sage, salt and flour to the reserved boiling water. Cook on medium 10 -15 minutes.

Glenda Weigel, Baldwin EMC


Baked Vidalia Onions

Vidalia onions, 1 per person to be served
½ cup brown sugar (or adjust to the number of onions)
1 stick butter
Aluminum foil for wrapping 

Take outer peel off onions. Carve a hole in the top of each (about ¾ inch deep and about that wide.) Put a teaspoon of brown sugar in the divots and place a pat of real butter on top of that. Wrap in foil. Bake them in a 450-degree oven about 30 minutes or until fork tender or place them on the grill as you cook your steak or other meat. 

Barbara Eubanks, Marshall-Dekalb EC


Themes and Deadlines:

Dec.: Nontraditional Holiday Food | Sept 13
Jan: Soups and Stews | Oct. 11
Feb.: Pork | Nov. 8

Please send us your original recipes (developed  or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

To be eligible, submissions must include a name, phone number, mailing address and co-op name. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.