Onions Key facts Onions are members of the same family as leeks and garlic. To avoid crying while chopping them, people say you should put a piece of bread in your mouth; contact lens wearers escape the tears. The word onion comes from the Latin unio, meaning one or single, as the plant produces just one bulb. Red onions are sweeter and milder than white ones, so may be better for salads.

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Where would cooks be without onions? One of the principal flavour-makers in the kitchen, stews, soups, casseroles, quick salads and sauces are all enhanced by this most humble but wonderful of vegetables, together with its tiny, milder cousin the shallot, which also plays an important role.Over the years, I’ve been given countless methods of how not to cry when preparing them. One enterprising person even sent me a battery-operated fan to fan away the fumes, but I can honestly say that nothing really works. For chopping, however, food processors have made things a lot easier, and now there aren’t as many tears as there used to be.

How to prepare onions

Slicing: if you want to slice them, cut off the root end, then peel away the skin. Slice in whole round slices and separate into rings, or else cut the onion in half first and then slice into half-moon shapes.

Chopping: rough chopping is as above, making about 3 cuts vertically across each onion and then 3 horizontally.

Chopping small (without a processor): this time leave the root intact, then peel away the skin from the top end. Now cut the onion in half and place each half on a flat surface, round-side up. Next, make cuts vertically from the root end but leaving the root intact to hold it together. Then make horizontal cuts across the vertical cuts whilst you hold on to the root end firmly. The last cut will be the little root bit and this can be discarded.

Oven-Fried Onions: Well, they’re actually roasted, but you get the same effect without having to stand over them. They are particularly lovely served with sausages and mash or for steak and onions. Serves 2.  8 oz (225 g) onions, peeled, 1 teaspoon groundnut or other flavourless oil,1 level teaspoon golden caster sugar.  Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C).

First of all you need to cut the onions into ¼ inch (5 mm) slices, then place them in a bowl, add the oil and sugar and toss the onions around to get the lightest coating. Then spread them out on a baking tray and place on a high shelf of the oven for 14-15 minutes – they need to be nicely blackened round the edges.

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