Onions (Recipe: salsa and shrimp stuffed avocado)
Adapted from the archives, with new photos, recipe and links.
When I cook, I hear voices.
I hear Jacques Pepin, Diana Kennedy, Ina Garten and Martin Yan, all urging me to try, experiment, enjoy. I hear Julia Child, or Dan Aykroyd channeling Julia, encouraging me to keep going, even if what I'm creating looks like a googly mess.
When I cook Cajun, I hear Justin Wilson. A humorist, storyteller, and talented home cook who spent the first part of his career as a safety engineer inspecting warehouses in South Louisiana, he hosted a cooking show on public television thirty years ago, long before the rest of the country had heard of etoufeé and andouille.
From Justin Wilson I learned about the Cajun trinity, the basic flavorings that start every soup and stew: celery, bell pepper, and onion. What he actually said was SEL-ray, bell PEP-pah, and un-NYUANH, way up in the nasal back of his throat, and whenever I make anything that begins with the trinity, I hear his voice.
In fact, there's very little cooking that does not include onions, which have been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Of the total world crop, more than 87 percent is yellow onions, eight percent red, and five percent white.
Yellow onions, all-purpose and full of flavor, add richness and a bit of sweetness to almost anything from French onion soup to apple chutney. Red onions lend their beautiful color and mild flavor to red onion and orange salad and whipped chickpea hummus. Sweet white spring/summer onions, including Vidalia and Walla Walla, are traditional in many Mexican dishes, like a classic salsa verde, and migas with tomato-chipotle coulis, but also in Asian cucumber salad with cilantro and Vidalia onions.
Stored properly in a cool, dry place, whole onions will keep for several weeks, or up to several months. I buy yellow onions in three- or five-pound bags and, because I use them frequently, I keep them in a basket on my kitchen counter. A screen or rack in a dry cellar works well, too.
Here's the strangest storage method I've read about, but not tried, from the Sweet Onion Source: Take a leg from a pair of clean sheer pantyhose. Drop an onion into the foot, and tie a knot right above it. Drop in another onion, tie a knot, and work your way up the leg. Hang this contraption in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place, though perhaps not front and center in your kitchen! When you need an onion, start at the bottom and cut below the lowest knot. Cut off as many onions as you need, and let the rest hang out.
A few fun facts about onions:
- According to the US Department of Agriculture, men consume 40 percent more onions than women. I don't know why, but I think that's true in my house.
- Russian Orthodox churches (think St. Basil's Cathedral, in Moscow's Red Square) are topped with onion-shaped domes because the onion's concentric rings are a symbol of eternity.
- An onion under the pillow is believed to ward off insomnia.
- In ancient times, Greek athletes rubbed onion on their bodies before the Olympic Games to bring them strength and endurance. In World War II, Russian soldiers rubbed onion on wounds, as an antiseptic. I have never ever rubbed onion on anyone's body.
- Parsley is the antidote to "onion breath."
- The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster #2 is one of six cocktails traditionally garnished with an onion.
Now, really, can you imagine life without onions?
Salsa and shrimp stuffed avocado
In a hurry? Use store-bought salsa fresca -- not the processed salsa -- from the produce aisle, and the dish comes together in five minutes. It's an appetizer with a wow factor, or the basis for a light summer lunch. Serves 6; can be doubled, or halved.
3 ripe, but still firm, avocados*
7 large (21-25 per pound) shrimp, or more if smaller, shells on
2 cups chopped fruit (tomato, or mango, or peaches)
1/4 cup chopped onion
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp finely chopped, seeded fresh jalapeño pepper
Pinch of kosher salt, to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, plus a few leaves for garnish
*Here's a tip I learned from Kalyn's Kitchen: Buy avocados a few days in advance. Bring them to desired ripeness on the countertop, then put them in the refrigerator. They will hold their ripeness, without getting overripe, for up to a week.
In a small sauce pan, place the shrimp and cover by half an inch with water. Bring water to a simmer, and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and curled. Drain and rinse under cold water, then peel the shrimp. Chop roughly, place in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.
In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients and toss well. Adjust seasoning with lime juice and salt, to taste. Cover and chill 1-2 hours, to allow the flavors to melt.
Add shrimp to salsa, and toss to combine. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed. Cut each avocado in half lengthwise. Remove the pit. Score each half, leaving the avocado in the shell.
Divide the salsa among the six avocado halves, filling the cavity and mounding it up on top. Squeeze a little bit of lime juice over all, and garnish with some cilantro leaves.