Here Come the Sweet Onions


Did you ever eat a raw onion as sweet as an apple? This is the time to try, as the season for fresh onions begins. Fresh onions look almost like the more durable storage onions, with similar colors and sizes, yet they have opposite seasons and different characteristics. Certain fresh onions (producers sometimes call them designer onions), are particularly known for their mild, even sugary taste. These onions contain more sugars and fewer sulfur-containing compounds than other onions do.

They are often identified by geographic origin and described as being sweet. Best known are Maui, Walla Walla, Vidalia, Texas Spring, California Imperial, and New Mexico Carzalia. A popular sweet red variety from the San Joaquin Valley is called California Italian Red. Fresh sweet onions come to market from April to August. Because their individual seasons are short and their supplies limited, these onions often command premium prices. Maui sweets appear sporadically throughout the year, and some fresh sweet onions come from Chile in winter.

All fresh onions have a paper-thin skin and a high proportion of water and sugar, which cause them to deteriorate rapidly, especially when bruised. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks but shouldn't touch each other or moisture. Wrap them in paper towels or, for a large quantity, encase them in clean old nylons, separated by knots, and hang them in a cool, dry, dark place. Storage onions, harvested from August through March, are the tear-producers with the most robust to hot tastes, but even the hottest is converted to mellow sweetness when cooked long and slowly. Their thick skins and significantly lower moisture content endow these onions with long life-up to 10 months for year round availability.

To play up the flavor of sweet fresh onions to best advantage, use them raw or lightly cooked, as in these recipes. Fresh Onion Rings with Mint

  1 pound (about 1 large or 2 medium size)
       fresh sweet onions
 1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar (or rice
       vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar)
   1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
       leaves
   1/8 teaspoon crushed dried hot red
       chilies
   1 cup small ice cubes or coarsely
       crushed ice
     Salt

Cut onions crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices; separate into rings. In a bowl, mix onion rings, vinegar, mint, chilies, and ice; cover and chill 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with the unmelted ice. Add salt to taste. Makes 4 to 6 servings. Per serving: 36 cal.; 1.2 g protein; 0. 1 g fat,- 8.2 g carbo.; 10 mg sodium; 0 mg chol. Barbecued Salmon with Sweet Onions

  1/2 cup sugar
   3 tablespoons salt
   2 dry bay leaves
   2 teaspoons coarse-ground pepper
   1 salmon fillet (2 to 2 1/2 lb.)
   1 cup hickory chips
   1 pound (about 1 large or 2 medium size)
       fresh sweet onions, sliced
       thin
     Lemon wedges
     Parsley sprigs

In a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, combine sugar, salt, bay leaves, pepper, and 3 cups water; stir until salt dissolves. …

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