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Cooking’s trinities. June 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , ,

Silence Dogood here. You just never know what you’ll learn when you do an internet search. Having recently eaten in a Chinese restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, I came away with the question I always have after eating in Chinese restaurants: Why don’t the Chinese use onions in their dishes? Garlic, yes. Scallions (green onions), yes. But where’s the plain old honest-to-goodness onion?

I love Chinese food, but I can’t think of a dish I order (except for moo shu/mu shu vegetables) that wouldn’t taste better to me if it had onions in it. When I cook Chinese food at home, I add them and love the results. So I keep asking myself why, why are there no onions when I go out to eat?!

Mind you, China’s cuisines are vast and various. Maybe it’s just American Chinese restaurant food that shuns onions. This morning, I determined to find out. Heading to Google, I typed in “onions Chinese cuisine.” I was directed to a Wikipedia article called “Holy trinity (cuisine).”

This article didn’t address the use or lack of onions in Chinese cuisine. But boy, was it fascinating! So I decided to share what I learned with all of you cooking and food enthusiasts out there, and urge you to check the original article to find out more.

A “holy trinity” in cooking is defined as three cornerstone ingredients that define a specific cuisine, such as the celery, bell peppers, and onions that form the basis of Creole and Cajun cooking. Here are some other trinities the article listed:

Chinese: scallions, ginger and garlic, or garlic, ginger and chilli peppers, or (in Sichuan cuisine) chilli peppers, Sichuan pepper and white pepper 

Japanese: dashi (soup stock), mirin (a sweet rice wine) and shoyu (soy sauce)

Thai: galangal (a ginger relative), lime leaf/kaffir lime (leaves and rind) and lemongrass

Indian: garlic, ginger and onion

French: celery, onion and carrots

Italian: celery, onion and carrots, or (in the South) tomatoes, garlic and basil

Spanish: garlic, onion and tomatoes

Cuban: garlic, bell peppers and Spanish onion

Mexican: ancho, pasilla and guajillo peppers

Greek: lemon juice, olive oil and (Greek) oregano

Lebanese/Middle Eastern: garlic, lemon juice and olive oil

West African: chilli peppers (habaneros or scotch bonnets), onions and tomatoes

Again, I recommend that you check out the original article to find the “trinities” of other cuisines and details on how these trinities are prepared and used in the various cuisines. Let me know if you disagree with any of them!

While you’re thinking about it, what is your own personal “trinity” of essential ingredients? Yow, it’s not easy to narrow them down, is it? But I know one thing: One of mine would definitely be onions. Which brings me back to my original question. If anybody can tell me why there are no onions in Chinese cuisine, please help me out here!

                 ‘Til next time,