Think all onion rings are created equal: crisp, hot, exquisitely floury– but laden with fat and calories? While many onion aficionados even favor dredging their rings in pancake batter for a sweeter, cake-like result (and who can argue with that?!) alternative recipes push consumption of the ringed fast food into the realm of reasonable — even healthy! Onions contain flavonoids which, according to sources, are noted for their anti-inflammatory, anti-cholesterol, antioxidant, and anticancer properties, not to mention their ability to help protect blood vessels from rupture or leakage. So why not uninhibitedly indulge on June 22nd: National Onion Ring Day!
Coating the vegetable with panko (lighter, finer Japanese breadcrumbs), cornflakes, crushed nuts or chickpea flour and then baking instead of frying can justify enjoying the fast food delicacy without compromising taste — and in fact some say taking onion rings to gourmet status.
But first, food historians report the onion ring initially entered the purview of American consumers around 1933, when a Crisco ad in The New York Times Magazine featured a recipe for onions dipped in milk, dredged in flour, and of course fried in their product. Prior to that, the 1802 cookbook “The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined,” by John Mollard, featured a recipe entitled “Fried Onions with Parmezan Cheese.” Cutting onions into half-inch rings, cooks were then advised to dip them in flour, cream, salt and pepper, and Parmesan cheese, ultimately deep frying in boiling lard. Serving suggestion was with a sauce made of mustard and melted butter. Kind of like a delicious triple bypass on a plate.
But today, in the quest for flavor, texture, less fat, and perhaps some identifiable health benefits from what we eat (who says we can’t have it all!), the onion ring’s mouthwatering makeover is well within our grasp. Try these healthier, tasty take-offs on conventional recipes, and celebrate National Onion Ring Day in guilt-free style!
Baked Panko Onion Rings
2 large Vidalia (or other sweet) onions
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 cups panko crumbs
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Peel onions and cut into thick, approximately 1/2-inch slices. Separate into rings. Set up breading station with three bowls. In one bowl place the flour, salt, and pepper. Mix well to combine. In the second bowl, beat together eggs and milk and in the third bowl, place the panko crumbs. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment lightly with cooking spray. Set aside.
Coat onion rings by dredging first in flour. Remove from the flour, shake off any excess, and drop into egg and milk mixture. Remove the onion ring from the egg mixture allowing any excess to drip back into the bowl; place the coated ring into the panko crumbs. Toss lightly to coat.
Place coated onion rings on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all onion rings are coated.
Spray prepared onion rings lightly with cooking spray. Place the baking sheets in oven and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and flip each onion ring carefully using a spatula or tongs. Replace the sheets in the oven and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until crispy and browned.
Baked Crushed Nut Onion Rings
1/2 cup crushed mixed nuts
1 cup crushed ‘coating’ (your choice of the following: whole wheat pretzels or crackers; cornmeal; whole wheat cereal)
2 eggs (beaten)
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Grind nuts and your choice of coating above. Place in a small bowl and set aside.
Beat 2 eggs in a small bowl and set aside. Slice onion lengthwise into disk-like shapes.
Separate onion rings and dip into egg, then into bowl of nuts and coating mixture. Be sure to cover each onion ring completely. Place each onto a baking sheet drizzled with olive oil. Sprinkle chili powder and rosemary on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on level of desired crispness.
Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.