There we were,just mother and daughter tucking into a plate of vegetarian kothu parota.A few spoonfuls later, it dawned on us that the dish before us contained less of the bits of sautéed parota and more of chopped onions which had been cooked until they softened.
Now our family also comprises of members whose particular distaste for this tear jerker of a vegetable is quite well known. So my mother’s indulgence with regard to this particular ingredient has diminished drastically from her childhood days.
The generous helpings of onion in this kothu parota got my mother all nostalgic about the onion poriyal yearnings.Apparently it was a huge favourite among her siblings and cousins,especially during rainy weather.
If nothing else was on hand ,it would be the onion poriyal to the rescue.I listened quietly , in rapt attention and had to smile when she said,’of course nowadays everyone talks about caramelised onions !’
That connection she made to the many similarities in our cooking techniques with those in other parts of the world made me realise the many familiarities in global cuisine. If you think about it an onion jam is quite like a chinna vengayam thokku , the level of sweetness or spice may vary but the end result was achieved by sweating those onions and cooking them to a sticky consistency.
An ingredient that is underrated or even taken for granted is undoubtedly the South Indian pearl onion or china vengayam. This variety of onion caramelises quickly when subjected to heat and adds almost a candied onion taste to the dish. The fact that it doesn’t carry the sharp spicy notes of the Spanish onion or periya vengayam is what makes it vital in many a poriyal and most definitely the star ingredient in a traditional sambhar.
The dark fudgy onion chutney is a delicious breakfast accompaniment and is well liked even by those who are used to European palates.Friends of ours who enjoyed this home made condiment with their dosai recently also talked about the small onion being used as a natural cure to treat simple maladies.
Boiling shallots in water along with half a spoonful of natural sugar is a simple remedy for treating fevers, coughs and colds.The chromium and sulphur present in onions help in regulating blood sugar.
My teen at home swears by the juice of the small onion as a topical scalp application to combat hairfall,even the most severe kind.This is because onions contain quercetin , a polyphenolic flavonoid that is beneficial for skin and hair.Raw onion application to bee stings is also supposed to aid in dramatic pain relief.
When included in the diet,the quercetin in onions has known to reduce the release of histamine making it a natural anti-histamine.Yet another known advantage is that it also helps in reducing inflammation that may lead to chronic illnesses.
I must confess that I’ve never really put much thought to the existence of these small onions in our regular diets. Chinna vengayam when eaten raw with fresh green chillies and buttermilk rice is touted as an unbeatable summer pairing that is essential to combat the heat. While I have tried that combo ,I enjoy eating them in other forms. Pickled, caramelised, pureed or just simply roasted with a sprig of rosemary are the many ways to enjoy this tender root vegetable.
Next on the agenda is an onion poriyal evening with the family while listening to the welcome sound of pelting raindrops.