Onions, as a vegetable, get no respect. They are the Tonto of veggies: always the sidekick, never the center of attention. Except for French onion soup, most people can’t think of a single dish that is “onions and”, but there are thousands of “something with onions.”

It’s very distressing because onions are actually nutritional powerhouses and people should eat more of them – every member of the family (garlic, leeks, onions, chives) has much to recommend it but at this point in the winter, I’m going to offer ideas for onions that are easy to find in your grocery store.

But first, the housekeeping (cue newsreel music):

Onions are great sources of the following:
Vitamin C
Chromium,
Dietary fiber.
Manganese
Molybdenum
Vitamin B6,
Folate
Potassium
Phosphorus
Copper

An unknown aspect of onions is their high polyphenol content, particularly quercetin and the allyl sulphides and sulphoxides (which is what makes you cry when you cut them). Research on quercetin shows it to be highly anti-inflammatory as well as anti-cancer. So it’s worth the thought to cook them up and eat them; their nutritional benefits actually stay in the pot with the soup or other ingredients that you have cooked. . . .

Okay – so, let’s concentrate on making onions the star of the vegetable portion of the meal. Onions have been cultivated and eaten for thousands of years and have been used in everything from soups to cookies (if you cook then down slowly, they get very sweet). Here are a few ideas to break the “xxx with onions” habit:

Punjabi Onion Salad

1 red onion, peeled and sliced thinly into rings
2 serrano green chilies, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. Minced cilantro

Top onions in a dish with chilies, and sprinkle with lemon juice. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

(courtesy of The Everything Indian Cookbook, Monica Bhide, Adams Media, 2004)

Baked Stuffed Onions

6 large onions
½ cup grated cheese
1 cup of “white sauce” ( made by melting 1 table spoon of butter in a pan, putting in several tablespoons of flour, sautéing until slightly browned, add one cup of milk, slowly and stirring)
1 cup of bread crumbs, divided into two half cups (flavored or not; I prefer flavored)
1 tablespoon of melted butter

Peel onions, place in a large pot of boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and cut out the centers, leaving a shell of the outside of the onions. Chop up the centers finely and mix with the cheese, sauce, and one half cup of the breadcrumbs.

Refill the onions, top with the rest of the crumbs and a little bit of the butter. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Serves 6.

(courtesy of Encyclopedic Cooking, Culinary Arts Institute, 1976, Grosset and Dunlap)

And – a different onion soup:

5 Spice Onion Soup

Ingredients:
• Broth
• 1 medium onion, chopped
• 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
• 1/2 inch fresh peeled ginger, sliced
• 6 whole cloves
• 1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
• 3 star anise
• 1/2 tsp dried fennel seeds
• 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
• 1 TBS soy sauce
• 1 TBS blackstrap molasses

Additional Soup Ingredients:
• 2 onions sliced thinly
• 6 cloves of garlic, sliced
• salt and white pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Chop the one onion for the broth. Thinly slice the two onions and garlic, which will later be added to the broth and let them all sit for 5 minutes to bring out their health-promoting properties.
2. To prepare broth, heat 1 TBSP broth in medium soup pot. Saute chopped onion over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the rest of the broth and remaining broth ingredients and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer broth ingredients briskly together for 20 minutes, uncovered. This will bring out a lot of flavor from the ingredients.
3. In a separate medium sized stainless steel skillet, heat 1 TBSP of soup broth over medium heat. Saute the sliced onions over medium low heat in broth, stirring often for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
4. After cooking broth for 20 minutes strain while it is still hot and return liquid to pan.
5. Slice mushrooms (and discard rest of strained ingredients) and return to broth.
6. Add sautéed onions and garlic and season with salt and white pepper to taste.

(courtesy of Whole Foods 5 Spice Onion Soup)