Onions et al.(liums)

"the onion acts as an architectural underpinning or seasoning to make other vegetables more flavoursome." Bert Greene

I'm not about to go through each kind of allium and provide recipes. This is likely to be much more of a random musing on the allium family. And I'm not really sure why I thought about it. Maybe it was because today I bought some shallots. Which I don't do very often. Why did I buy them? Well it seems to me that I am increasingly coming across recipes that need shallots and I never have any, so I thought I would add them to my list of things to always have on hand.


I have two, no three friends who are fructose intolerant, which means that they cannot eat onions, leeks - well any allium really, although it seems that the tops of spring onions and also chives can sometimes be tolerated. I cannot imagine having to cook without this particular family of vegetables. It's alright to do it occasionally when I cook for one of them, but even then it takes a considerable amount of looking to find a recipe that does not include one of them.


I actually remember my mother heroically cooking two casseroles when we had a casserole or stew, because my sister, for some weird reason would not eat onions. She does now, so it wasn't an allergy. A bit like my younger son who wouldn't touch lettuce and now loves it. Well tastes change through life I guess, which is another reason to wonder why is that?


So the allium family - who are its members? Well every kind of onion that you can think of, white, brown, red, salad, pickling, and then there are spring onions - known to the Americans as scallions, chives, leeks, shallots and garlic. I think they all have those pom pom kind of flowers if you let them grow to that point, and they are all smelly to a lesser or greater degree. Which apparently comes from something to do with sulphur in them. Sorry - I have now lost that reference and frankly can't be bothered to pursue it. Funny how I'm generally not that interested in why exactly any food is good for you. I just need to know whether it is good - or bad for you. Alliums are some of the good guys,


So pretty too. They seem to be grown as flowers as well these days - maybe without the smell?

In India - I thought it was in Kashmir - onions and garlic are forbidden. I did a quick check on this and found that it's against the religion of some Jains, and also some Hindus, so I am guessing that that is where I got that piece of information from. Otherwise the entire world now eats onions et al. Which is interesting. Did they have them always in the Americas, because they originated in Central Asia they think, although not eaten for a very long time - they were too divine for that.


"in the Eastern view, the golden fruit with its myriad layered skins was regarded as a symbol of eternity, a globe to be held close to the heart when invoking a solemn oath, perhaps, but far too celestial for mere human consumption." Bert Greene


And speaking of divine and sacred here is what Bert Greene has to say about the origins of the name 'onion'.


"the name itself bears testament to the high esteem in which the plant was held by earlier civilisations. 'Onion' stems from the Latin 'unus', which means 'one' and was conferred on that single bulbed stalk because its spherical shape was equated with a symbol of the universe. The fact that it sprouted from the same family tree as the sacred lily invested the onion with its official touch of reverence" Bert Greene


He is wrong however about the lily connection, although to be fair the Romans may have thought them connected. An earlier classification of alliums had them in the Lililiaceae family but that has been changed to the Amaryllidaceae family which also contains agapanthus, daffodils and snowdrops, It's all very technical and even down to a molecular level.


Onions and their relatives do so much more than provide a basis for other things though. They are sometimes stars in their own right - in some of the world's great dishes indeed - Pissaladière, Flamiche and French onion soup, Do-piaza curries, spring to mind immediately and there are countless others,


No we just can't do without onions - and their close relatives.


"Onions are extraordinary. Rare is the soup, stock, stew or casserole that's not improved by them, and a hot dog is simply not hot without smoky, sweet, fried onions piled on top. How many dishes, the world over, start to take shape the moment a heap of glistening white, chopped onion hits hot oil? The complexity of flavour tucked into the juicy layers of this humble looking bulb - the sweetness, acidity, the deep savouriness, make it the hardest worker in the kitchen. It's widely available all year round, largely of fine quality, and relatively inexpensive." Mark Diacono - River Cottage A-Z


Apologies for this really aimless ramble. I think the heat is getting to me. Just one last random thought. There is a recipe in my Provence the Beautiful cookbook for Stuffed Onions which I have always meant to have a go at. Although I couldn't really tell you why. Maybe it's Richard Olney's introduction:


"As these stuffed onion sheaths cook, the enclosing seam melts and your guests may wonder how it was possible to stuff a seemingly whole, elongated onion without opening it up. A lovely separate course."


But what does that say about me? A secret desire to make people go wow! I have always chickened out though because it looks somewhat complicated, because you have to boil the halved onions, pull them apart, stuff each layer and then bake in the oven in a tomato sauce. A bit of a faff. Maybe one day when it isn't hot and I can heat up the kitchen.


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