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Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service, Published July 18 2013

Prairie Fare: Try these tips for best onion results

“When I grow up, I’m going to buy my food at a store,” I announced to my parents as I crawled along the ground planting long rows of Bermuda onion sets. I was in elementary school at the time, and my grumbling didn’t relieve me of helping in the garden. I was handed a bag of corn seeds to plant when I finished with the onions.

The gardens of my youth seemed to cover acres of land. One year, we had a bumper crop of onions. We had so many that we filled the bed of our pickup truck heaping full of the white softball-sized globes. We gave away many, many bags of onions that year.

I’ve eaten my “no gardening for me” words many times through the years. I prefer fresh produce picked close to home whenever that is possible. A bag of those homegrown onions would be welcome.

The other day, I was admiring the tall stems of the onions in our backyard garden. I doubt they will reach the size of softballs, but I know we will use them in casseroles, soups and stews, and as part of grilled kebabs.

Onions are among the most popular vegetables, contributing flavor, vitamin C, fiber and health-promoting natural antioxidants to your recipes. According to the National Onion Association, we each eat about 20 pounds of onions per year.

However, some people think of crying or halitosis (bad breath) when onions are mentioned. These potential downsides can be managed.

If cutting up onions prompts tearful cooking in your kitchen, keep these tips in mind. Chill the onions about a half hour before preparing them, then use a sharp knife and leave the root end intact until the end of the preparation process. The tear-inducing sulfur compounds are concentrated in the root end.

Next, cut off the top and peel the skin, then cut as desired. The National Onion Association has videos about how to cut onions at www.onions-usa.org.

What about the “dragon breath” issue? Fresh parsley acts as a natural breath mint, and brushing your teeth or rinsing your mouth with a mixture of lemon juice and water might help.

You might want to hang around with people who ate the same onion-containing recipe, too.

Onions are available in various sizes and colors, including yellow, white and red/purple. Green onions are called scallions and small onions are called shallots.

Yellow onions usually are the all-purpose onions, while white onions tend to have a sharper flavor that is retained during cooking. Purple onions often are used raw in salads because they are sweeter.

When you select onions at a grocery store or farmers market, be sure they are firm and even colored without bruises or mold. At home, keep them in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing onions near potatoes because potatoes are high in moisture, which might be absorbed by the onions.

A medium onion yields about a cup of chopped onion. If you peel and dice more onion than you need, you can place it in a sealed bag or other container in the refrigerator. Use cut onions within a week.

If you grow your own onions, keep in mind some harvesting tips. When most of the tops are falling over and drying out, onions are ready to harvest. You can leave them in the ground for a while if the weather is warm and dry.

If you plan to store whole onions for later use, place them in a ventilated, warm area (75 to 90 F) for at least a couple of weeks to cure. The outer skin should be dry and the necks should be tight. You can braid the tops or cut the tops back prior to storing in a cool, dry place.

Onion rings and onion blossoms are among the most popular restaurant foods. However, they are very high in fat and calories. One estimate placed a typical restaurant onion blossom at 2,700 calories and 200 grams of fat. Even if you share it with a few people, that is an “energy-intense” appetizer. Here is a lower-calorie version of onion rings, which can be baked in your oven.

Oven-Baked Onion Rings

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup finely ground toasted bread crumbs (low sodium)

¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

1 large mild onion, peeled and cut into ¼-inch rings

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a large, shallow baking sheet with foil. Brush with oil. Stir bread crumbs, flour and salt together and spread on a large plate. Whisk the egg slightly. Separate the onion rings, dip in egg and press into the bread crumb mixture, turning to coat both sides. Place the breaded onion rings in a single layer on the pan and bake for 15 minutes. Turn over the rings and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden and crispy.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 9 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of protein, 15 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 350 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.