Most people think of onions as a supplement to other dishes, not as the center of attention. It’s different for Jeffrey Buben, who is the chef/owner of Vidalia Restaurant and Bistro Bis in Washington DC. Buben is all about onions, and in particular the beautiful sweet southern Vidalia onions. These onions, he argues, can be the centerpiece of many dishes and even many meals.
What is the Vidalia onion?
During the Great Depression, farmers in Georgia were desperate for a crop to sustain their families; the soil was sandy, and they thought that onions might take better to it than cotton or corn. What came out of that soil wasn’t the hot onions they expected, but a sweeter variety that no one had ever tasted before. A local farmer’s market soon sprang up and people were requesting “those sweet onions from Vidalia,” so the new vegetable got its name. And local people began to give them as gifts when they traveled, so soon people all over the country wanted some. The new Piggly Wiggly grocery food chain happily stocked the Vidalias, and other national chains eventually followed suit
Some recipes to watch for
Buben is enamored of Vidalia onions. In the following videos, he plans to show viewers how to make some of his restaurant’s signature dishes, including Vidalia Onion and Apple Upside Down Cake (a takeoff of a traditional upside cake made with sweet Vidalia onions), a Jumbo Lump Crab and Vidalia Onion Soufflé (capturing the best of the mid-Atlantic region with Maryland’s Jumbo Lump Crab meat and a sweet Vidalia Onion), Applewood Bacon Vinaigrette (made with sweet Vidalia onions and a dressing that stands up to strong greens and herbs), and finally a roasted Heirloom Beet and Vidalia Onion salad (with another great sweet onion vinaigrette).
Buben reviews the tools that will be required for these fabulous Vidalia onion recipes. The first tool is a KitchenAid mixer. You’ll also need a number of different knives—you are, after all, cutting up onions! Buben cautions to be sure that knives are well sharpened before you begin. He claims that “you never get cut with a sharp knife.” You’ll also want to assemble some whisks, spoons, and mixing bowls. He also cautions how to use the major tool: the oven. Make sure that your range is at the proper temperature called for in the recipe before you put the dish in, and turn it off immediately after your dish has finished cooking. This is important for both safety and energy conservation.
Buben digresses briefly to give his biography. He and his wife Sallie opened the Vidalia restaurant in 1993; the restaurant is still operating and doing well. They expanded in 1998 with Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill, which caters to politicians, powerbrokers, and celebrities in the Capitol Hill area. Obviously he’s not the only one to love the Vidalia onion! But when they started out, they didn’t expect to do too many recipes using Vidalias; they also thought of the onions as a nice touch, not as a star.
Yet quickly it became apparent that their customers felt otherwise and the Vidalia began to take center stage, so the Bubens found themselves creating more and more recipes around this “accidental” discovery of Georgia farmers.
Now you can have an entire meal built around the beautiful sweet onions, from appetizers to desserts.