Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country

Balsamic-Marinated Onions

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I bought a pomegranate the other day, as I always do this time each year, just about the same time that the clementines appear in their little mesh sacks.  I dutifully ripped it open under water, the way the Pom-brand-produced grocery-store pamphlets advise us to do, so that the surrounding water absorbs the inevitable explosions of crimson juice when paring knives pierce the kernels in an effort to peel away the pith. Having carefully produced a small bowlful of brightly-colored arils, I placed the bowl on the kitchen island when the kids returned home from school. (I had already eaten a few of them, lodging one seed so firmly in my lower-left molar that I swore I’d never, ever eat another… Prufrock, do you dare to eat a pomegranate?)

My older son, our little fruit bat, came in, popped a handful of arils into his mouth, nummed in approval and declared, “These look like little gems.” He crunched a few more as I marveled at him. “You know,” he said, “like jewels or something. Like you could put them on some earrings.”

He’s a wordsmith at 8, his sidelong glances at the world so penetrating and perfect that he often manages to articulate just what I’d been thinking but not yet bothered to speak aloud. Pomegranate arils as garnets.

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Later in the day, as I prepared our freshly harvested salad–these cool, clear days still ferry just enough daylight to our drowsy garden patch to keep the almost-fluorescent leaves regenerating–he stood peering at the bowl. “Huh,” he said, as I plied a few marinated onion pieces from the jar in which they had been soaking.  “Those look like earthworms.” And then, oddly, “Can I taste one?” (Because, for an 8-year-old boy, there is nothing incongruous about the idea of eating something that looks like an earthworm.)

[Quick, utterly gratuitous aside: Moseying along a walking trail with me this week, my 4-year-old spotted a flattened earthworm, with “his guts squishing out.” After we doubled back some minutes later, he scoured the pavement for a second look at the carnage. “Hmmm,” he said. “I know it’s around here somewhere. It was right next to a squashed smoke-rette.” I just love that. It has nothing to do with the rest of this story, but I would hate to forget it.]

I dropped a deeply marinated onion into the mouth of my first baby bird, now 8 years old and nearly 9, for heaven’s sake. He puckered and nodded enthusiastically before saying: “Looks gross, tastes great.”

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Mixed salad greens + feta cheese + chopped candied nuts + dried cranberries + marinated red onions

Personally, I don’t think they look gross at all. They are a jewel-tone, like pomegranate arils or the burnished edges of sweetgum leaves in autumn.  Lovely and rich and earthy (without being earthwormy!), they transform a salad of delicate autumn greens–delicious all on their own but ethereal, collapsible, almost vanishing before your eyes–into something with strength and depth. To be sure, we are onion people, so maybe we are biased in their favor. I think my husband would eat thick slices of untreated, raw red onions on his salad without a grumble (although he does complain about being overwhelmed by their sharpness on his Panera Mediterranean Veggie sandwiches), but about these, there is no debate. You will turn your dinner side dish into a salad for which you would not begrudge paying $12.99 at a restaurant (the sort to which you sometimes add grilled chicken or salmon for an additional $4.99).

Yep, all it takes is a little bit of vinegar and the magic of time.

I realize this is so simple it hardly counts as a recipe, but it’s like the most delicious non-recipe I know. I also make these, sometimes, with red wine vinegar, but November feels balsamic to me…at least this year. I probably should say that these taste better when prepared with a decent quality of vinegar. I’m devoted to Aldi’s balsamic vinegar, which I buy by the flat when they have it in stock. In any case, don’t buy the cheapo plastic bottle and dump it in here. It just won’t have the molassesy quality that these onions really deserve.

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To marinate your own red onions:

  • Slice 1 red onion, as thin or as thick as you like.
  • Cram it into a jar. (I think jars work better than bowls because they are deep, so you can use less vinegar and still cover the onion.) Also, they have lids that seal tight.
  • Fill the jar with vinegar (balsamic or red wine, preferably…If you use regular white vinegar, the vibrant color will bleed out of your onion and they’ll wind up a pallid pink).
  • Add a little bit of sugar (somewhere between 1 tsp. and 1 tablespoon) and just a pinch of salt.
  • Screw the lid onto your jar, shake it all up, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  • You can keep these as long as you want. I don’t know whether they would EVER spoil, with all that acid in them, but they’ve certainly never lasted long enough at my house for me to find out!
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One thought on “Balsamic-Marinated Onions

  1. Beautifully written. Love the imagery you conjure up. I think I know where your 8 year old wordsmith gets it from 🙂

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