The crunchy, delicate Walla Walla

Over the years, I've made quite a few blunders when working with the Walla Walla Sweet onion.

The idea that they're so wonderful as to fit anywhere a regular, yellow onion would is far from the truth. Yes, they are wonderful. But stand in for a yellow globe? Not when any amount of cooking is involved.

By nature, the yellow globe is potent, with plenty of kick left after several hours in a stew pot to render a recognizable, oniony flavor at the dinner table. To expect a mild-mannered Walla Walla to stand up to such treatment is unreasonable — not to mention a waste of a perfectly good onion.

But as I said, that was a lesson I had to learn the hard way: by pickling the Walla Walla (10 minutes in a boiling-water bath, and it was history); by stewing the Walla Walla (it turns to mush); by using in highly seasoned dishes ("That's funny, I could swear I added an onion to this Sichuan chicken.").

Well, I learned my lesson. These days, I make sure this sweet, summer commodity of Washington is treated in ways that will complement its crunchy texture and delicate flavor. For the past many years, the recipes I've created have been fresh salsas and relishes.

One such creation began in a grocery store. I was roaming aimlessly through the produce section hoping to be struck by inspiration when the produce manager called to me. His tone was conspiratorial — as if he was about to roll up his sleeve to exhibit a row of Rolex watches that had "fallen off a truck."

Instead, he led me over to the corn. "Jan, ya gotta try this!" he whispered, reaching for an ear and peeling back the husk. It was white corn, and biting into it, I discovered it was, indeed, sweet. Very, very sweet. Sort of like ... sort of like ... (this is where the bolt of lightening streaked through my brain) ... sort of like a Walla Walla Sweet onion.

So I bought some of the sweet, white corn, a couple of colorful, sweet bell peppers, some chopped olives and, of course, a lot of Walla Walla Sweet onions. The resulting relish came together very quickly, so I served it alongside the evening's grilled chicken breast. It was fantastic.

It also makes for a colorful salad on a bed of greens drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan or Swiss cheese and, of course, even works well as a dip for tortilla and pita chips.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks.

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