Ingredient SpotLight

When someone tells me that they don't like onions because they are too spicy, I usually point to sweet onions, instead. That often gets me a question about the differences, so this month, I'm going to share some of those differences:
  • Sweet onions, sometimes referred to as "short day" onions, because their growing season occurs during the fall and winter with harvest usually in spring /summer, are fresh onions, picked and cured for a short time, then rushed to market. Storage onions, or regular globe onions, are harvested in late summer and fall, stored in warehouses and delivered to markets throughout most of the year.
  • Although there is no official industry standard, it is generally accepted that an onion should contain at least 6% sugar to be in the "sweet" category. Some sweet onions, like the OsoSweet, have recorded sugar levels of up to 15%. Storage onions usually range from 3%-5% in sugar content.
  • Unlike sweet onions, regular onions have high levels of sulfur compounds. It's the pyruvic acid in the sulfur that causes tears, harshness, and indigestion. That's why great sweet onions are always grown in soil with low amounts of sulfur. Typically, sweet onions have pyruvic acid levels that measure below 5%; storage onions usually run 10%-13%. Because a sweet onion is also a fresh onion it is very high in water content, which further dilutes the effect of the sulfur and increases mildness.

To give you an idea of the versatility of sweet onions, I'm including three recipes here. Each is a different play on fun, ethnic cuisine. Enjoy!

Indian Relish

  • 2 red bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together red bell peppers, onion, white wine vinegar, sugar and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stirring occasionally, cook 30 minutes, or until thickened. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight before serving.

  • Yields: 2 cups relish
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes, plus refrigeration time

Portuguese Chourico and Peppers

  • 2 pounds chorizo sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 2 sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic

In a slow cooker, combine the sausage, green pepper, onion, tomato paste, wine, water, and crushed garlic. Stir so that everything is evenly distributed. Cover, and set on Low. Cook for 8 hours. Uncover the pot, and cook an additional 2 hours to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Serve over rice, or with Portuguese rolls.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes, plus 10 hours slow cooking

Spicy Thai Vegetable Soup

  • 1 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger root
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 4 cups chopped broccoli
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 (14 ounce) can light coconut milk
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 Thai chile peppers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon grass
  • 1 tablespoon Thai pepper garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • fresh cilantro, for garnish

Bring the rice and water to a boil in a pot. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 45 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat, and cook the onion, garlic, ginger, and carrots 5 minutes, until tender. Mix in broccoli, red bell pepper, coconut milk, broth, wine, fish sauce, soy sauce, Thai chile peppers, lemon grass, garlic sauce, and saffron. Simmer 25 minutes.

Pour soup in batches into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth and creamy. Return to the pot, and mix in yogurt and cooked rice. Top with cilantro to serve.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes