Stuffed onions with barley & lentil pilaf
Onions are one of the staples of our diet – well they’re certainly one of the staples of mine. We always have garlic and onion in the house and I would say about 80% of the things I cook, are started by sauteeing together these two ingredients. Their rich intensity adds so much flavour to even the simplest of dishes.
Onions are also extremely good for you. They contain the flavonoid quercetin , which has antiinflammatory action. It inhibits both the manufacture and release of histamine, one of the substances responsible for allergy reactions – just think of all those people taking anti-histamine tablets in spring for their hayfever. So if you get hayfever, hives, or even asthma and eczema, onions are a good food to include regularly in your diet.
Quercetin is also an antioxidant and can protect us from heart disease and many of the other chronic diseases that affect our society. Both onions and garlic have been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and they are just two of the foods the Heart Foundation recommends including regularly in your diet.
Onions also contain antimicrobial constituents. Along with garlic, they are a good food to eat if you have a cold or a cough. In fact in herbal medicine we often use a syrup that can be made at home by soaking onions overnight in honey. This is excellent for dealing with coughs and tastes surprisingly good (!).
In our large intestines there are whole colonies of bacteria and other organisims that help us to digest fibre and maintain good digestive and bowel health. These are called probiotics and include cultures likeacidophillus, bifidusandcasei. In order to flourish and do their good work these probiotics need food, in the form of fructooligosaccharides, which are starchy substances found in many foods, including onions.
Therefore, as well as being a core part of cooking in cultures from around the globe, onions also have many, many health benefits – so there really is a good reason to have an international onion day (and thanks to Zorra at Kochtopf for organising this!).
I based this recipe on one from Susan’s Fat Free Vegan blog, which is one of my favourite blogs. While her recipes aren’t completely fat free (as many ingredients inherently contain some fat), Susan adds very little fat during the cooking process. I’m continually impressed by her imaginative and creative vegan cooking – it’s simply one of the best vegan resources I’ve come across.
There are several steps to this recipe, so it’s probably not something you’d make after a long day at work. However it’s quite easy and definitely worth it – Richard and I really enjoyed this meal. The red onions get a silky smooth texture and their flavour softens and mellows with the cooking. This combines really well with the spiced barley and lentil pilaf. I’ve added more vegies than the original recipe and also used slightly different spices and barley instead of rice. Oh yes, I only used about a third of the pilaf for stuffing the onions and have put the rest in the freezer, for another day.
Stuffed onions with barley & lentil pilaf
- 4 red onions, peeled
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- 400g Kent / Jap pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
- 1 dried chilli
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 teaspoons sumac (or lemon juice)
- 1/2 cup barley, washed
- 1/2 cup brown lentils, washed
- 1 × 400g tin tomatoes
- 1/2 bunch silverbeet, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon shoyu (or soy sauce)
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Cut a slice off the bottom of the onions, so they stand upright and then cut a 1cm slice off the top. Place on aluminium foil on a baking tray and drizzle with half the olive oil. Put in the oven and cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the onions are tender and slightly caramelised. Remove from the oven (but leave the oven on).
While the onions are cooking, prepare the pilaf.
Finely chop the leftover bits of onion. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan (with a lid). Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2 – 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stir, then turn the heat down low, cover with the lid and leave to sweat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the dried chilli, cinnamon, allspice and sumac and stir through to coat the onions with the spice mixture. Add the barley and lentils and continue cooking for about 2 minutes, stirring to coat with the onion and spices.
Add the tinned tomatoes plus 2.5 cups of water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down low, cover with the lid and cook for about 30 – 40 minutes, or until the lentils and barley are cooked. Stir through the silverbeet, pine nuts and shoyu.
Take the onions off the baking tray and pop the middle of each onion out. This should be easy to do, as they are quite soft at this stage (you want to leave about 3 layers of onion intact – with a hole in the middle, to be stuffed with pilaf). Place the onions in an oiled baking dish and spoon the pilaf mixture into the middle of each onion, pressing down to pack it in tightly as you go and putting a mound of pilaf on top. Chop up the onion centres and scatter around the stuffed onions and then cover with more of the pilaf mixture, so the onions are surrounded. Cover with aluminium foil and place in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through and bubbling.
This serves two people as is, or you could stretch to four, with a side salad and some couscous.