Vail Valley Seasonal: Invisible onion is a staple of American diet |

Vail Valley Seasonal: Invisible onion is a staple of American diet

Sue Barham
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily/Nelson Kunkel AAvondale's green onion rings make a great side dish with roast

VAIL, Colorado ” Why invisible? No other vegetable brings so much flavor to the Vail Valley palate while playing a supporting role. Fragrantly mellow when simmered, onions form a base for soups and sauces. Sublimely sweet when caramelized, they adorn pizzas and stand in as savory garnishes. Pungent when raw, onions add pizzazz to salads and sandwiches.

As the third largest vegetable crop in the United States, Americans use about 370 semi-truck loads of onions per day. There are a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. Spring onions are grown in warmer areas from fall to spring and have a mild, sweet flavor. Several states are known for this crop, including Hawaii for its Maui onion, Georgia for its Vidalia and Texas for its sweet onion. Green onions (or scallions) are immature bulb onions harvested early for their mild flavor. Chives are the smallest species of the onion family and are typically used as an herb by snipping the green tops that grow above the ground.

Storage onions are mature bulbs that are dried after harvesting. The skin becomes dry and crackly, and the flavor turns sharp and pungent. The drying process allows the onions a long shelf life; they can be stored for several months and shipped for use through the winter. About 85 percent of our onion crop is the yellow-skinned variety, most reliable for all-purpose cooking. Red skins are popular for grilling and using raw, and the white are a staple in Mexican cooking.

Onions as a food source can be traced to Asia back to about 3500 BC. There is evidence that the vegetable was one of the few that could be stored through the winter months without spoiling. The ancient Egyptians also showed signs of revering the onion. They believed the spherical shape and concentric rings symbolized eternity. Today, the humble root grows wild on every continent and is used for food and homeopathic preventative medicines. Onions lower blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.

But why do onions make us weep? Restaurant Avondale’s Executive Chef Jeremy Kittelson has chopped more than his share of onions over the years.

Support Local Journalism

“When you slice into an onion, you release its sulfur, which reacts with the moisture in the human eye. The eye naturally forms tears to flush the sulfur,” he said.

Kittelson shares a recipe for Avondale’s crowd-pleasing green onion rings and a classic French onion sauce.

“Sauce soubise is an easy and impressive accompaniment to grilled or roasted beef,” he said.

Onion ring batter:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons baking powder

1/4 cup kosher salt

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1/2 cup minced green onions

2 tablespoons snipped chives

2 cups beer

For the rings:

2 Spanish onions, cut in circles 1⁄2 inch thick

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup flour

1 cup Wondra (instant) flour

4 cups vegetable oil

Separate the onion slices into individual rings. Soak the onion rings for 12 hours in buttermilk.

Make the batter by combining all the dry ingredients together, then mix in the beer to reach a consistency of pancake batter.

Pour oil into a large skillet to a depth of 2 inches. Heat to 350 degrees. Combine the flour and Wondra. Dredge the marinated rings in the flour mixture and then into the onion ring batter. Immediately drop the rings into the hot oil without crowding. Fry until golden brown. Work in batches until all the rings are cooked. Serve immediately.

Serves 8.

(pronounced soo – BEEZ)

2 cups chopped sweet onions, Vidalia or Walla Walla

31⁄2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Cook the onions:

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add the chopped onion and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until translucent and fragrant. Do not allow the onions to brown. Puree till smooth.

Prepare the bechamel sauce:

In a medium saucepan, heat 21⁄2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture slowly, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg. Add enough bechamel to the onions to make a velvety sauce.

Yield 2 cups.

Sue Barham is the marketing director for Restaurant Avondale and Larkspur Restaurant. Avondale features a West Coast-inspired, seasonal menu. For more information, visit and the chefs use time-honored cooking methods, such as slow roasting and braising, to create simple dishes rich in flavor. The wine program focuses on small production wines to compliment the straightforward cuisine. For more information visit

Support Local Journalism