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Know Your Superfoods: The Onion



Of the genre of uber-healthy diet staples known as “super foods,” the allium family is the least well known.  These plants are more often regarded as aromatics for flavoring rather than the primary star of a meal, but garlic, onions, leeks and chives have potent health enhancing qualities.  They help facilitate detoxification and act as powerful antioxidants, stimulate immune responses and reduce inflammation.  Alliums enhance the production of glutathione, which is a tripeptide that serves as an antioxidant for the liver which helps to eliminate toxins and carcinogens.  Thus, the allium family earns its spot on the list of anti-cancer super foods.

Onions contain calcium, potassium, Vitamin C and folate.  It is believed that anti cancer benefits in onions come from the sulphur compounds in them known as allyl sulphides.  In addition, onions contain the flavonoid quercetin which is associated with immune boosting properties.  It is interesting to note that onions and garlic contain a wider variety of health enhancing sulphur compounds when cooked.   This is good news for those of us who prefer them cooked.  Studies on onions show that heating the vegetable will not destroy the flavenols and when baked or fried the concentration of quercetin may increase1.

One of the most delicious ways to enjoy onions is to fry them until they are caramelized.  Once cooked, they can be added to salads, sandwiches, pizza or sauces to add a wonderful sweetness and flavour to any recipe.  If you shy away from onions because you are afraid of bad breath, eating them this way could change your mind as the sweetness and texture of caramelized onions is unlike onions any other way and will not give you any potent onion after-effects.

Mel’s French Onion Soup

½ cup unsalted butter
6 sweet onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle
3 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 to 9 cups beef broth (yes, beef)

2 large bunches kale, chopped
2 large bunches chard, chopped

1 baguette, sliced (optional… gluten free bread is fine as well)
1/2 pound grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese (your choice)

1.  Peel and slice six large sweet onions in uniform thin slices.  First cut in half, lay cut side down on the board and slice thinly along the bulb.

2.  Place pan on the stove over medium heat.  Add butter to the pan and continue to allow both the pan and butter to come to temperature.  Don’t shy away from the butter.  It’s awesome.   Add the onions.  They should sizzle but not splatter.  Ensure you have enough butter to come in contact with all of the onions.

3.  Stir every 30 seconds or so to ensure all of the onions get in contact with the heat and the butter.  At the initial stage the onions lose all of their water so the onions will reduce in size while the liquid in your pan increases.  Then the sugars in the onions start to break down which causes caramelization. You should turn the pan down and allow the onions to come to a nice caramel brown slowly and this can take up to an hour.  Don’t rush it.  This is where the deep, delicious flavor in your soup starts.

4.  Add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and salt and. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about five minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

5.  Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir (for the gluten free crowd, maybe skip this step.). Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn, and cook for 10 minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth and the chopped kale and chard, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes. Season to taste, with salt and pepper.

6.  To serve place a slice of baguette on the soup in an oven proof bowl and sprinkle with cheese.  Place under broiler until cheese is melted and baguette is toasty.  MMMMMM!  If you don’t have oven proof bowls, just toast the baguettes and cheese under the broiler and then float your cheesy croutons on the soup in a serving bowl.  Easy!


1. “Whole foods. What they give you that supplements can’t.” Mayo Clin Health Lett 1998 Aug;16(8):7 1998. PMID:17690.