Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A flexible vegetable stew with Vidalia Onions

Last month, before the ice and snow storm, we went to the Scott's Antique Market in Atlanta.  This antique and collectible show is held on the second week-end of each month.  We go there several times a year as we enjoy looking at the great variety of items for sale.  Last month I found some vintage postcards and several old books.  Outside there were many vendors too, from antiques to garden furniture, plants, and bric-a-brac.  I purchased some fresh green beans and Vidalia onions from the booth of a farmer.  I had never used the green Vidalia onions before and was a bit curious about them.

The sweet Vidalia onions are popular in Georgia and are well known by gourmets everywhere.  They are trademarked and can only be grown in thirteen counties in Georgia and specific portions of seven other Georgia counties.  It is illegal to grow them in any other area.  They are like the Champagne in France that can only be called by that name if the grapes have been grown in the Champagne area, all other places cannot call their bubbly wine Champagne.  Champagne and Vidalia onions have what we call in French an "Appellation d'Origine Controlee" - or controlled designation of origin.  (Photos in collages below courtesy Vidalia Onion Committee.)  (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

The Vidalia Onion Festival is held in Vidalia every year in April to celebrate this famous sweet onion.  I'd like to go there sometimes but as shown on the map above it is a bit far from Atlanta - at least a 3 hours drive or 194 miles (312 kms.)

The town of Vidalia was incorporated on January 1, 1890.  At the time it was just a small town along the railroad.  It owes its name to Vidalia Wadley, the daughter of the president of Central of Georgia Railroad.  In 2000 metro Vidalia area had a population of about 35,000.  Vidalia is located in Toombs County.  Of course, as I am curious I had to find out why the county was named Toombs.  It turns out that Robert Augustus Toombs (1810-1885) was an ardent secessionist who helped lead Georgia out of the Union.  He was the first Secretary of State of the Confederacy and a senator from Georgia.  He had a "volatile personality" and was of English descent.  Toombs was a Confederate General and refused political pardon after the Civil War.  His antebellum home in Washington, Georgia, is now a museum filled with Toombs memorabilia and antique furniture.  (I'll have to go there on a trip sometime.)  (Photos below courtesy Wikipedia.)

But to come back to our onions, the Vidalia onion is the "official vegetable" of the State of Georgia and a major crop for the state.

As mentioned above, in 1931 a farmer in Toombs County discovered that his onions were sweet.  Other farmers in the area started to grow this onion too and the tourist trade and good PR made it popular.  The pyruvate level or Pyruvic Acid is the "standard" industry tool to categorize onion pungency.  Vidalia onions have a very low level of pyruvate because the native soil is low in sulfur and the area has a mild climate - it will not cause heartburn or indigestion.  The Vidalia onion can be cooked as a regular onion, but because of its sweetness it can also be eaten raw, in salads and sandwiches.  The green onions I bought at the antique show are called "Lil' Bo's Petite Sweet Vidalia Onions" and produced by the Herndon Farms of Lyons, Georgia.  They were named after Bryton Bo Kight, the grandson of the farm owner, Bo Herndon.  I liked those I bought last month so much that I bought some more today at the supermarket and will make a vegetable stir-fry with them.

Anyhow, last month during that cold week I made up a vegetable stew.  I called it "Ice Storm Green Bean Stew" but I made up a variation of this stew two weeks later, so now I call it "Flexible Vegetable Stew with Vidalia onions."  First I gathered what I believed would go nicely together, or rather, what I had on hand such as a large green pepper - I always like green peppers and onions.

Then I gathered mushrooms, garlic, a lamb chop, canned tomatoes, white kidney beans, herbs and spices.

As I cooked I tried to keep notes, but I am not a good recipe writer.  Here it is below.

Flexible Vegetable Stew with Vidalia Green Onions

1 shoulder lamb chop, or beef stew, or veal or chicken (or no meat) ...cut into small pieces
1 1/2 pound fresh green beans, cut 1 inch long
2 or 3 large green Lil' Bo's Vidalia sweet onions  (or 4 or 5 green onions if unavailable)
6 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 piece, 1 1/2 inch long, of fresh ginger, sliced (if available and optional)
1 large green pepper, thinly sliced longwise
5 or 6 mushrooms, sliced
1 large can (28 oz) tomatoes in basil sauce + 1/2 can water
1 medium can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes in juice
1 large can (20 oz/567 gr) white kidney beans
1 tsp Creole seasoning
2 tsp dry oregano
1 Tablespoon dry basil
1/8 tsp red cayenne pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Olive oil and butter  - salt and pepper to taste

Cut white parts of Vidalia green onions and slice (reserve green parts.)  Place some olive oil (about 1+ Tbs) and a piece of butter into a large pot.  Fry white of green onions and green pepper for several minutes, stirring.  Add ginger and garlic, fry for a minute longer, stirring.  Add more oil or butter if needed so it won't stick.  Add meat if used and stir, fry until no longer pink.  Add green beans, stir and cook 5 minutes on medium.  Add seasoning and herbs, salt and pepper and mushrooms.  Add the 2 cans of tomatoes and water, stir and cook, uncovered for about 15 minutes, gently boiling to reduce liquid.  Add can of beans, which has been drained and rinsed, and sliced parts of Vidalia green onion.  Cover and turn down heat.  Cook 20 minutes - check after 10 minutes and stir.  Serve with couscous, or mashed potatoes.  (Makes a lot)

This recipe makes a large amount.  We ate it for 3 days and I froze some too.  Then two weeks later I decided to make this stew again as we liked it, but with a variation.  I purchased 1 pound of fresh green beans and 1/2 pound of yellow string beans.  I used a red bell pepper this time and an eggplant (aubergine.)  I also added a regular Vidalia onion, or a yellow onion, chopped.  Instead of the white kidney beans I used a large can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas.) I did not use the Creole seasoning but 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, 1 heaping teaspoon of Zatar (Middle Eastern spice) and 2 teaspoons of Turkish oregano.  The rest stayed the same: Vidalia green sweet onions, etc.  This was good with rice pilaf, Armenian style.   If Zatar is not available I'd use Herbes de Provence instead.

The reason I called this recipe"flexible" is because you can keep the basic green beans, garlic, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes recipe and just change the beans and the herbs and spices.  Next time I'll use black beans or dark kidney beans and add a can of corn, then some chili powder to give it a Mexican taste.  Another time I'll use red beans, some andouille sausage or other smoked sausage and Cajun spices to give it a New Orleans style, and serve it with white rice. But it does make a large amount and could easily be halved or placed in several small containers in the freezer.

The weather did warm up a bit, enough for our Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) to bring out its sweet scented bright yellow flowers.  The birds love this plant and propagate it well as we have holly bushes sprouting up all over the back and front yard.

I love to watch the birds, and other critters, whether they come to eat the berries from the Oregon Grape Holly bushes or from our bird feeders.

To finish, below is my Lil' Bo's Petite Sweet Vidalia Onions® and assorted vegetables photo worked with my waterlogue app.


DJan said...

I love your pretty watercolor pictures, VB. I know you made them with an app, but if I didn't know that, I would swear you painted them. The soup, flexible as it is, sounds absolutely delicious. I've been eating quite a bit of soup lately myself. We've got sweet onions in Washington state, too, that are renowned in culinary circles. :-)

Elephant's Child said...

Your flexible stew looks, and sounds delicious. I make something fairly similar here - and freeze portions for later treats.

Diane said...

Interesting post, I have never heard of Vivaldia onions, do they really make a difference to the end taste of a dish? Love vegetable stews and this sounds perfect.

Love the little critters as well.
Bonne journée. Diane

Pat said...

I love the idea of sweet onions - especially ones that don't cause indigestion.
All those meals look and sound very tempting. I would certainly buy them for my freezer if they were available over here.
There you are Vagabonde - a new business for you to pursue in your spare time:)

Frances said...

Vagabonde, I am so glad to have this inspiration for a delicious, nutritious, colorful and flexible stew recipe. I am going grocery shopping later on today, and will definitely gather some ingredients to make my own version.

Zatar is a spice I have never used, and i love the idea of adding a new flavoring to my tasting experience. Thank you! Of course, I know about Vidalia onions, but did not know about the little green versions.

Thanks also for sharing the joys of your bird watching. I admit that I don't recognize every bird that visited your feeder, but each is very beautiful. Do you get a serenade from them?

Love to you and Jim. xo

Amanda said...

How sad I do not like onions but I really should give Vidalia onions another try. I ate a tomato salad with Maui onions once, and they were ok, not great. I handle cooked onions better. I just hate the after taste in my mouth, particularly raw ones.
(I finished a good book last night, written by Tracy Chevalier "the last runaway". It is about Quakers and slavery in Ohio. I was thinking of you).

Magali@TheLittleWhiteHouse said...

I loved reading about a part of history of Georgia I knew nothing about.

David said...

Vagabonde, Laurie and wandered through Vidalia a couple of years ago and we picked up a bag of onions...which she loves! We keep Vidalia Onion salad dressing the house too. I'd be in a little trouble with the stew...don't like pieces of onion, bell peppers or mushrooms. Drives my wife crazy as she especially likes onions and mushrooms. Like your bird photos! Take Care...Spring is coming! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Magic Love Crow said...

I love your posts! Our family loves onions! Thanks for all the history! The food you made looks amazing! Thanks for the recipes ;o) I have never heard of Oregon Grape Holly! Looks beautiful! Love your animal pictures ;o) Big Hugs ;o)

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your watercolors are so attractive. Vidalia onions are so important for cooks everywhere and I enjoyed reading the history. I was glad to see the Mahonia doing well. We have a couple in our garden that we first saw in Georgia.

Jeanie said...

Your recipe looks delicious -- and so, too, do your photos! I'm very familiar with Vidalia onions. Less so with their history, so this is again very interesting.

Just back from holiday and I have a wonderful email from you which I will answer tomorrow! Happy day!

Kay said...

Your stew looks wonderful and I did mention you and your waterlogue app on my blog today. :-) Thank you so much for telling us about it. I love playing with it.

Roger Gauthier said...

Mais je n'ai absolument jamais entendu parler des oignons vidalia. Jamais. Je dois dire qu'ils ont l'air tout à fait miam miam… :-)

J'aime bien aussi tes photos d'oiseaux à la mangeoire.

Down by the sea said...

Your stew looks delicious. Vidalia onions look similar to what we call spring onions but the taste sounds as if it is milder. Sarah x

Ginnie said...

You must have known that I've figured out how to make my own multi-bean soup here, Vagabonde, without one of those 15-bean-soup packets I was able to buy there in Atlanta whenever I wanted. I love your idea of stew variations. You've given me some good ideas...even without Vidalia onions here (boo-hoo).

But the waterlogued images are what totally made my day in this post. I LOVE LOVE LOVE them!

rjerdee said...

I didn't know all this about Vidalia onions~~the champagne of onions, eh?. My favorite salad dressing is Vidalia onion and now I know why!

Sally Wessely said...

You make reading about stew and onions so interesting! I really enjoyed learning about the onions. I think that we can buy this as a special selection at Whole Foods sometimes. I had no idea about the history of this special onion.

Your stew looks delicious! I will have to make it.

Ruth said...

Your stew looks and sounds delicious. You are generous to share your recipe. For me, onions are essential. I just caramelized some last night to put in eggs with kale. I love them by themselves too. Thanks for the back story on Vidalia onions. I remember Ginnie talking about them when she lived in Atlanta, but I didn't realize they were such a big deal down there, and I hadn't heard much about them up here.

Thank you for following my quilt blog. I am having way too much fun!

Ruth said...

Oh, I also meant to say that my husband heard that the "protected designation of origin" is being expanded further, so that foods like Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Camembert, etc., can only be named those names in the regions and with the food stuffs of their origins. It's been around since 1992, but it is expanding. I don't know which foods are being newly enforced.

Sandi McBride said...

I love Vidalia onions anyway they come...raw with a biscuit...yum...half onion and half squash, ultra yummy (don't forget the fat back drippins)sweated till they're sweet as sugar...then eat them with a fork...bring em on!

ELFI said...

j'aime les aquarelles..les mahonias et ..les oiseaux, naturellement!

Miss_Yves said...

Nature vivante, et natures mortes:une fête colorée pour les yeux dans ce billet!

Vicki Lane said...

Your recipes sound delicious. Like Frances, I am going to have to buy some zatar...

And I love the watercolor effects!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Your stew looks delicious and very flexible. I like recipes like this where I can change out ingredients on a whim. Love your pretty watercolors too.

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