My friend Paula Refi keeps her Vidalia onions on racks in her de-humidified basement. “The Knights of Columbus at our church, St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur, sell them every summer as a fundraiser. I buy a big bag, bring them home and lay them out so they will last as long as possible,” she said.
I'm told that Vidalia onions aren’t just a Georgia favorite but are sold in all 50 states and parts of Canada. Refi concurred, saying, “I've been amazed at how my sister and oldest friend in my home town of Philadelphia search out Vidalias every summer. … This humble Georgia crop has attained a certain cachet up north.”
Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2011 and has been updated.
RECIPE: Summer Salad With Pickled Peppers, Peaches and Fermented Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette
From chef Scott Crawford of Standard Foods in Raleigh, N.C. To make this healthy and flavorful summer salad, you will need one week for fermenting the Vidalia onions. For immediate results, fresh Vidalia onion juice can be substituted for the fermented onions. This recipe was a 2015 Golden Whisk Award recipe from the AJC
For the salad:
1 cucumber, sliced
1 Georgia peach, peeled and sliced
1 batch baby sweet pickled peppers (see recipe)
1 summer squash, sliced
1 batch fermented Vidalia onions (see recipe)
6 yellow wax beans, sliced
6 Sun Gold tomatoes cut in half
4 large strawberries cut in half
1 cup arugula leaves, torn into small pieces
10 tarragon leaves, torn into small pieces
6 large opal basil leaves, torn into small pieces
3 large Thai basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Top of one fennel bulb, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup Romano cheese, microplaned
For the pickled peppers:
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon pickling spice
1 sprig thyme
3 baby sweet peppers, sliced
In a small saucepan heat vinegar, salt, sugar, spices and thyme. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Strain liquid through a fine sieve over peppers. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool.
For the fermented Vidalia onions:
1 cup Vidalia onions, shredded
2 ounces white wine
5 teaspoons salt
5 teaspoons sugar
Mix all ingredients in a stainless bowl then transfer to a glass jar and cover with a coffee filter and rubber band. Be sure the mixture is covered with liquid. Store at 80-90 degrees for at least one week.
For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup fermented Vidalia onions
1/4 cup cane vinegar
1/2 cup grape seed oil
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, mix fermented Vidalia onions, cane vinegar and grape seed oil. Gently whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: In a large bowl, toss vegetables, fruits, arugula and herbs with vinaigrette. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Present in chilled bowls and top with cheese.
Per serving, entire recipe: 371 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), 5 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 30 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 7 milligrams cholesterol, 1,025 milligrams sodium
RECIPE: Grilled Vidalia Onion Steaks
Hands on: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Refi pointed me to Paula Deen’s recipe for grilled Vidalia onion slices. When she sent me this description, I had to give it a try. “We grilled burgers along with some thick Vidalia onion slices slathered with Deen's concoction: melted butter, mustard, honey and Worcestershire sauce. She calls them Vidalia onion steaks. I piled the hot burgers with smoked Gouda, the onions and ketchup, so simple but so utterly delicious that I felt guilty. …We rarely have leftover onions, but I bet they would be a tasty addition to any sandwich or wrap.”
I can only add that Deen’s tip to use thin bamboo skewers to hold the onion steaks together when grilling is well worth remembering.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch fresh thyme leaves
2 large sweet Vidalia onions, peeled, cut horizontally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
Soak thin bamboo skewers in water for 20 minutes. Preheat grill to medium high. Brush grill grate lightly with oil.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, honey, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and thyme. Set aside.
Prepare onion slices by running two presoaked bamboo skewers crosswise through each slice, being sure to catch the center rings. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on grill. Cook until beginning to char, about five minutes. Turn rings and brush grilled side with honey mustard mixture. Cook until slices are tender, about five minutes more. Turn, brush second side with honey mustard mixture and grill one minute more. Honey mustard should just start to caramelize. Remove onions from grill. Remove skewers and serve with remaining honey mustard mixture.
Per serving with 2 tablespoons sauce: 270 calories (percent of calories from fat, 66), 1 gram protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 21 grams fat (3 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 99 milligrams sodium.
Adapted from a recipe by Paula Deen.