Recipes: Make onion the star

ONION JAM: One of the many different ways you can incorporate the everyday onion in a new and exciting way.
ONION JAM: One of the many different ways you can incorporate the everyday onion in a new and exciting way.

Enjoy the many layers of mellow warmth and sweetness that onions offer. Often referred to - possibly by those who have never actually peeled let alone cooked the vegetable - as the humble onion, recipes incorporating onions range from everyday soups and stews to complex layers of dishes fit for a rajah.

Mature onions include brown, white, red, Spanish onions - which contrary to popular belief are yellow, rather than red - and small, brown shallots (also known as eschalots).

Immature onions still attached to their green stems and sold in bunches - are the true spring onions. Long stemmed green onions, widely known as spring onions (or in American recipe books, scallions) are ideal for quick-cooked Asian dishes.

A NEW CLASSIC: Never be afraid to play with a classic recipe to create something modern with a twist.
A NEW CLASSIC: Never be afraid to play with a classic recipe to create something modern with a twist.

Try one of these recipes and let onions be the star of the your next meal.

Baked shallots with raisins, balsamic vinegar & feta

Peel shallots in no time with this simple tip: a dip in hot water loosens the skins.

30 shallots

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

A few sprigs of thyme

3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

3 Tbsp water

1/4 cup raisins

2 Tbsp brown sugar

Sea salt and black pepper

200g soft (goat) feta to serve

Heat oven to 190C fan-forced.

Bring a kettle to the boil. Place shallots in a large heatproof bowl and pour boiling water over them. After about a minute, remove and peel off the skins.

Pour oil into baking dish, scatter garlic around and place shallots on top. Throw in thyme sprigs, spoon over balsamic vinegar and water. Tuck in raisins and finish with brown sugar. Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring once or twice, until shallots are deeply burnished and sticky.

Remove from oven and serve with salt and freshly ground pepper to season, and a good measure of feta. Serves 4.

French lentil & onion soup

Add French lentils to a traditional onion soup for texture and finish off with zesty lemon and mint.

4 Tbsp butter

4 medium brown onions, peeled and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

1.2 litres vegetable stock, plus extra if required

250g (11/4 cups) puy lentils, washed

Handful fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped

1 lemon, zest and juice

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

1 small French baguette, thickly sliced

150g gruyere cheese, grated

Heat a large heavy-based pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add sliced onions and cook for 20 minutes until well softened and golden. Add garlic and cook for a few more minutes until garlic is soft and translucent.

Add stock and bring to a simmer.

Add lentils and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or so, until the lentils are tender but still holding their shape.

Remove from heat and stir in parsley, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper and finish with fresh mint to taste.

If the soup is too thick, add a little extra stock or water.

To make the cheese croutons, grill the bread on one side, turn and sprinkle with cheese. Grill until cheese melts and turns golden.

Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately with grilled cheese croutons. Serves 4.

Quick steak sandwich

Use rump steak if you prefer, add mushrooms or even a fried egg.

600g eye fillet steak

4 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing

2 red onions, thinly sliced

8 thick slices sourdough bread

150g baby spinach leaves

Salt and pepper

Good-quality chutney or relish

Thinly slice steak into eight pieces. Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan and cook onion until softened. Lower heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, until onion starts to colour and becomes crunchy around the edges.

Brush sourdough with a little oil and cook on a hot (grill) plate for a few minutes either side, or toast the bread.Wilt spinach for a few minutes in a small non-stick pan.

Cook steak in a very hot pan with a little oil for about 30 seconds each side. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.

Pile wilted spinach on a slice of toast, top with two slices of steak and lashings of onions. Dollop with good-quality chutney and top with a second slice of toast. Serves 4.

Savoury onion & tamarillo jam

Savoury because although there is some sweetness in this jam it is best not spread on toast at breakfast. A splendid deep rich red it is a delight with sausages and and mash, or with a strong cheese and a slice of toasted ciabatta.

6-8 firm brown medium onions

1 tsp coconut (cooking) oil - I like Blue Coconut

250g muscovado sugar

3-4 tamarillos

2-3 tsp mustard seeds

125ml red-wine vinegar

Peel and chop the onions. Heat the oil in a heavy pan (I use a Le Creuset casserole dish), add the onion slices and cook stirring until they soften and begin to colour.

Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then add the flesh of the tamarillos and the mustard seeds.

Stir until simmering, then add the vinegar.

The mixture will be quite sloppy but simmer for 30-40 minutes until reduced and thickish. Pour into sterilised jars, that have been wiped round the rim with vinegar.

Seal with sterilised lids. Keep for a week before using.

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