As martyr in the war against panettone, I remember many dry-cake lovers being quick to say I was wasting my time fighting their favourite brand of sugar-cardboard, and many questioned whether this was really the hill I was ready to die on. Sure, a panettone is so ridiculously large (and dry) it might as well be a hill, but they were right, it wasn’t the battle I was ready to lose my life over. The war on onions in every fucking dish however, is.
I know many Maltese chefs (or Instagram users who think their 250 followers care about their basic recipes) are going to rage about what is to come, but it needs to be said loudly, clearly and for everyone to hear:
You don’t need to put onions in every dish you cook.
Even as I type this out, I can feel the collective rage building across the island, and thousands of hands are already wringing imaginary necks. But unless you’re Chef Sean Gravina or Daniel Grech (in which case, you’re always welcome to hop over for a bit of light choking) save your rage for the comments; your mindless defence of the vegetable makes you look like a basla.
As a non-qualified anthropologist (I’ve lived outside of Malta’s shores for over a week, you see, so I’m suddenly an expert on Maltese society), it’s easy to understand why we love cooking with them so much. Onions cause tears (because science), and as an emotionally-stunted nation who hasn’t had permission to cry since the finale of Becky, the relief that comes with unleashing the full force of our tear ducts is one we cannot resist.
What other explaination would there be to throw bitter-bulbs into any dish that requires the slightest bit of heat?
Let’s say you do like the taste, which many might (I even have a few family members who eat onions, and that’s OK, we accept all sorts), the one phrase that needs to die with the next group of trees to be cut down in the name of progress is the over-used trope that: “onions don’t have a taste, they just bring out the flavour of other things they’re with”.
Sure, the onion flavour of the other things.
It’s like when people say lettuce doesn’t have a taste. You’re only saying that because it may be a little plain, or watery and insipid when heated, but if you think lettuce (or onion) don’t have a very distinct taste, I have some good news for your future boyfriends who may just save a fortune on pineapples. If you know, you know.
Our obsession with basal runs so deep, we don’t even feel the need to mention them as ingredients on the menu anymore. Like a rental property’s mold problem, not needing indicators at a roundabout or the distinct possibility of a male romantic interest in Ben Camille’s past – it’s never spoken about explicitly, but people assume it’s there, unless otherwise stated.
Imagine if people started doing that with extra hot chilli flakes. Sure it adds a lot of flavour to most dishes, but I’d rather know it was there before I ordered pizza and found it completely covered.
So why is onion any different? Just cos they turn clear when heated doesn’t mean they’re suddenly gone.
Some people can’t eat onions because they’re allergic. Others have issues with acid reflux that is further angered by acidic additions like onions. Some people just think they’re icky – it doesn’t matter why you’re getting within one millimeter of the waiter’s ear to avoid anyone’s unnecessary judgement while asking to remove all onions. The point is they’re not Ruth Amaira on TVM – they don’t always need to be there.
And if you’re the sort of person who slips then into dishes because the onion hater “won’t even notice”, know that they probably have noticed, and that they are far more likely to taste onion in your pie than you are to taste toilet water on your toothbrush.