How Sweet It Is: Sweet Onions

Though it didn’t happen very often, when my brothers, my sister or I didn’t clean our plates at dinner, Dad would threaten to lock us in the basement and feed us nothing but raw onions. Needless to say, raw onions were not at the top of our list of favorite foods. But that was before sweet onions.

Sweet or mild onions don’t have the sting or bite that storage or cooking onions do. So, you can (and should) eat them raw—thickly sliced on burgers and thinly sliced or chopped in salads.

Thanks to some good marketing, the Vidalia from Georgia became the Kleenex of sweet onions because many people came to believe that Vidalia meant sweet onions. However, there are sweet onions from all over the United States: Maui Sweets from Hawaii, Sweet Imperials from California, Texas 1015 Supersweets and Walla Wallas from Washington. What they all have in common is warm weather, which sweet onions need because they are planted in late fall or very early spring for harvest in early spring  to summer.

Now, we don’t even have to go without sweet onions in winter, thanks to the crop from South America, primarily Peru and Chile, which produces the OSO Sweet .

Sweet onions should be firm and free of bruises or soft spots. They should have thin, papery skins. Store them in cool, not cold, temperatures (about 50 to 55 degrees). Humidity should be relatively low, at least y as far as produce is concerned, about 65 to 70 percent. Those are cellar conditions, unless your cellar is particularly damp. Hanging the onions in knotted pantyhose in a well ventilated area is technique some folks use. Generally, you shouldn’t refrigerate sweet onions until they are cut. However, the Vidalia Onion Committee says onions wrapped individually in foil will last as long as a year in the refrigerator.

The following dish can be made year round, but especially in warmer weather, when local tomatoes become available. If you can’t wait that long, use sweet grape tomatoes instead.

SHRIMP, SWEET ONION AND COUSCOUS SALAD

  • 1 pound medium shrimp (31 to 35 count)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron mixed with 1/3 cup white wine
  • 10-ounce package of couscous
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped, about 1 cup
  • 15-ounce can chick peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 jalapeno or other fresh chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 medium to large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Romaine or other lettuce for garnish

1)Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook 5 minutes. Skim off any scum, remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and cool. Save 2 cups of the shrimp cooking water.

2)While the shrimp are cooling add the wine/saffron mixture to shrimp water. Use this liquid to cook the couscous. (If package calls for more or less liquid, adjust accordingly.) Cool couscous, fluffing occasionally with a large fork.

3)Peel the shrimp and put them in a large bowl with the onion, chick peas, jalapeno, tomato and mint. Add the couscous and mix well.

4)Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and pour over couscous mixture. Toss well and adjust seasoning as needed. Chill until ready to serve. To serve line plates with lettuce and spoon out salad. Serves 4 as a main course, up to 8 as part of a buffet.

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