Seven delicious ways to enjoy the powerful healing benefits of onions and garlic.

The strong flavor and eye-watering aroma typical of vegetables from the allium family (such as onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots) are a blessing. These characteristics come from sulfur compounds, which have been found to reduce the incidence of several kinds of tumors and to deactivate some cancer-causing chemicals. As reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a study of 1,600 people in China found that those who had eaten significantly more onions and garlic were 60 percent less likely to develop stomach cancer than those who consumed smaller amounts. Other studies have shown onions and garlic to contain substances that help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and hinder the information of blood clots.

Unlike the Chinese, some of whom consume up to a pound of onions and garlic a week, Americans typically use these vegetables as condiments to spice up salads or flavor soups. Yet onions and garlic can also make surprisingly sweet entrees. When they are cooked, some of the pungent flavor compounds are converted to a substance that is 50-70 times as sweet as table sugar. Here are seven delicious ways to get more alliums into your diet.

LEEK TART WITH CURRIED CORN CRUST

Makes six 4-inch tarts or one 9-inch pie

The curry turns the crust an attractive golden brown and adds a spicy flavor to the sweet baked leeks, which are a source of iron, folacin, and vitamins [B.sub.6] and C.

Dough

1/2 cup unbleached white flour 1/2 cup corn flour 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour 1/8 teaspoon sea salt 2 tablespoons curry powder 1 teaspoon poppy seeds 1/4 cup canola oil 6 tablespoons cold water

Filling

8 ounces leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced 1 medium yellow onion, diced 2 large cloves garlic, minced with pinch sea salt 11/2 teaspoons canola oil 1 tablespoon natural soy sauce water as needed 2 teaspoons arrowroot, dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 [degree] F. Sift flours, salt, and curry powder into a mixing bowl. Mix in poppy seeds. Drizzle in oil and toss until pea-sized balls form. Sprinkle with cold water and stir until flour forms a loose dough. Knead dough gently 3-4 times, until smooth. Don’t over knead. Divide dough into 6 equal balls (2 ounces each). On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball into a 4-inch circle, 1/4-inch thick. Lightly oil and flour 6 tart shells (or 1 pie shell or 6 large muffin tins). Fit each dough circle into a tart shell and press the dough to fit into the fluted edges (or crimp the dough if using a pie shell or muffin tin). Bake the tart shells for 10 minutes. Remove from oven when lightly brown, and allow crusts to cool in the tart shells while you prepare the filling.

Trim of the leek roots and discard. Split each leek in half lengthwise, separate, and run under cold water to remove sand. Be sure to wash each leek leaf. Slice leeks crosswise about 1/4-inch thick. Peel and cut onion in half. Slice onion into 1-inch strips about 1/4-inch thick. Mince the garlic fine.

In a 10-inch skillet, heat the oil on medium. Add the onions and garlic and saute for 2 minutes or until the onions become translucent. Add the leekls and soy sauce and, if needed, a little water to prevent sticking. Saute 1-2 minutes, just until the leeks wilt. Dissolve the arrowroot in cold water and stir into leek mixture, until a clear gaze has formed. Fill each tart with an equal amount of leek filling. Remove from tart shells and serve immediately.

Note: When making one 9-inch leek pie, double the amount of onions and use an additional teaspoon of soy sauce.

CHINESE HOLIDAY DUMPLINS

Makes 12 dumplings

These garlic-laced dumplings are a traditional New Year’s dish believed to ensure good health. Easy-to-make finger foods, they can be used as appetizers or as entrees. The sweet rice wine dip tempers the pungent filling.

Dough

2 tablespoons sesame seeds 1-1/4 cups unbleached white flour pinch sea salt 1/2 cup water 1/4 cup light sesame oil

Filling

4 small yellow onions (1-1/2 cups minced) 6 large cloves garlic, chopped 11/2 teaspoons ginger root, peeled and chopped 2 teaspoons toated sesame oil 1 teaspoon dry mustard 3/4 teaspoon five-spice powder 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili peppers 1 teaspoon natural soy sauce 3 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)

Dip Sauce

1/8 cup natural soy sauce 1/8 cup mirin 1/8 cup rice vinegar 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Wash and drain sesame seeds and toast in a heavy skillet until they pop. Set aside to cool. Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Add sesame seed. In a small saucepan, bring water and oil to a boil. Immediately pour into flour, stirring until flour balls into a dough. Knead gently to mix in any remaining flour and to smooth the dough. Refrigerate dough while you prepare the filling. (Note: The dough will be somewhat oily at this stage.)

Peel and mince the onions, garlic, and ginger root. In a small skillet over medium heat, sauce the vegetables in toasted sesame oil about 2-3 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Stir in dry mustard, five-spice powder, and chili peppers. Add soy sauce and mirin and continue cooking until liquid has evaporated and mixture is dry. Spoon into a bowl and allow to cool while you roll out the dough.

Remove dough from refrigerator and divide into 12 equal balls (approximately 1 ounce each). Roll each ball between your palms to smooth the dough, then press to flatten slightly. Take each ball of dough and place on a lightly floured surface. Turn over so flour lightly coats each side. Roll out each ball into a 2-1/2-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick. Place 1 teaspoon of filling on the center. Fold the dough in half and seal the edges by crimping with a fork. Repeat with remaining balls using the filling. Place all dumplings on a lightly oiled metal or bamboo steamer rack and steam over a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes or until the dough turns slightly translucent. Allow to cool 5 minutes before removing from racks. Combine ingredients for dip sauce and serve.

SWEET ONION CASSEROLE

Serves 4

Onions and apples may seem an odd combination, but when cooked they both turn sweet. The apples also add soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol.

2 cups yellow onions, diced 2 cups red apples (Macintosh, Rome, Spartan), peeled and grated 1 pound seitan 1-2 cloves garlic 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 cup seitan broth (or 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons soy sauce) 1 tablespoon prepared mustard 2 tablespoons, parsley, minced

Peel and finely diced onions. Peel and grate the apples. Cut seitan into bite-sized pieces. Mince garlic with sea salt to form a paste. Reserve all. In a 10-inch skillet, saute the onions in oil and medium-low heat until they soften, taking care not to brown them. Add apples and garlic and saute for 5 minutes, carefully stirring until the apples soften. Add the seitan and broth, turn heat to low, cover the skillet, and simmer for about 25-30 minutes until the apples rurn to sauce. Remove cover and stir in the mustard. Season to taste with a little soy sauce, if desired, but not so much as to over-power the delicate sweetness of the onions and apples. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve over rice.

Note: For a heartier dish, dredge the seitan in arrowroot flour and deep-dry before adding to the casserole. Add 1/2 cup more broth.

WILD RICE WITH BABY PEARL ONIONS

Serves 4

An excellent source of vitamin A, chives also belong to the allium family. They are a tasty complement to the onions and garlic in this fluffy wild rice dish.

1 cup wild rice 12 ounces baby pearl onions 1 clove garlic 1 teaspoon olive oil 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh rosemary sprigs 2 cups water 2 tablespoons natural soy sauce 1 bunch fresh chives

Wash and drain the wild rice. Peel the baby onions and mince the garlic. In a dry 10-inch skillet, toast the wild rice on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until most of the grains pop, about 10-12 minutes. (If the heat is too high the grains will burn before they pop.) Add the olive oil and stir well to coat grains. Add the garlic, rosemary, and baby onions to the rice and stir. Add the water and soy sauce. Cover the skillet, bring to boil, and turn heat to low. Simmer gently until all the water evalopates and the rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Add more water if needed to complete the cooking process. Wash and chop the chives. Place the rice into a serving bowl, garnish with the chives, and serve immediately.

SPANISH STUFFED ONIONS

Serves 4

A sweet onion shell holds a colorful and aromatic filling of garlic and Spanish spices that is festive, yet mild-mannered.

4 12-ounce Spanish onions 3 teaspoons natural soy sauce 1/2 cup green pepper, diced 1 cup red pepper, diced 1 cup yellow corn, fresh or frozen 4 cloves garlic 1 tablespoon sea salt 1/2 teaspoon dried red chili pepper 1 tablespoon cumin 1 teaspoon coriander 4 tablespoons bread crumbs 4 sprigs fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350 [degrees] F. Peel the brown outer skin off each onion. Trim off the root ends so that each onions sits squarely on a flat surface without wobbling. Cut off the shoot end so that you can pick out the middle of each onion, leaving the 2 or 3 outermost layers intact. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of soy sauce into each onion. Dice 1/2 cup of the scooped out onion, dice the peppers into 1-2-inch pieces, and mince the garlic. In a skillet, on high heat, brown the diced onions and garlic in oil with the salt, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chili pepper and spices, and stir. Add the fresh peppers and corn, turn heat to medium, and saute until tender (you may need to add a little water to keep spices from burning). Remove from heat, stir in bread crumbs, and fill onions with the mixture. Pour a little water a splash of soy sauce into a baking dish just large enough to hold stuffed onions. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes or until you can easily pierce the onions with a toothpick – the onions should still be firm enough to hold their shape. Garnish each wqith a sprig of cilantro. Serve hot.

HERBED SHALLOT CREAM SAUCE

Serves 3-4

This rich sauce turns plain vegetables, fish, or poultry into a feast. It’s low in calories. Made from shallots, a mild-tasting onion, it adds flavor without the bite.

8 ounces shallots 1 teaspoon canola oil 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/2 cup white wine (chardonnay, zinfandel) 3 tablespoons unbleached white flour 1/2 cup plain soymilk 1/4 cup water pinch white pepper 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon 1 teaspoon fresh thyme 1 teaspoon fresh chives

Peel shallots and cut larger ones in half. In a 1-1/2-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, add shallots and a pinch of salt. Saute for 5 minutes, Stir frequently so shallots brown evenly on all sides, but do not burn. Add 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze the caramelized shallot juice until the wine evaporates, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low. Mix the flour with the remaining wine, soymilk, and water. Stire well to remove any lumps. slowly pour this mixture over the shallots, add the salt and pepper, and stir for 2-3 minutes until the sauce begins to thicken. Turn heat to low, cover saucepan, and gently summer until shallots are tender, about 15 minutes. Wash and chop herbs and add to shallots, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

ONIONS AND FENNEL AU GRATIN

Makes one 8-inch casserole

This creamy anisze-flavored dish is a good choice for weight watchers. It’s made with fennel, a celery-like bulb that is sweet and filling, yet low in calories. It goes especially well with any fish entree.

Sauce

2 cups yellow onions, diced 1/2 cup of soymilk 1/2 cup water 1 teaspoon sea salt 1/4 teaspoon white pepper 4 tablespoons unbleached white flour 4 tablespoons cold water

Casserole

1 pound fennel 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour 1 tablespoon anise seed 1/4 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 [degrees] F. Peel and dice the onions. Place in blender and process until smooth. In a 1-1/2-quart saucepan, add onion puree, soymilk, and water. Bring to a slow simmer and add salt and pepper. In a small bowl, dissolve flour in cold water. Whisk 1/2 cup of the simmering onion liquid into the flour-water mixture, and stir until smooth. Slowly pour this liquid into the pot with onions, stir frequently to prevent sticking, lumping, or burning. Simmer slowly for 15 minutes.

Wash and trim the delicate green leafy fronds off the fennel and reserve for the garnish. Slice the fennel bulb and stems 1/4-inch thick and toss with the flour in a mixing bowl. Toast the anise seeds in a hot skillet for 30 seconds to deepen their flavor and sprinkle them onto the fennel mixture. Place the mixture into a lightly oiled casserole dish. When sauce is cooked, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour over the sliced fennel. Top with bread crumbs and bake for 30 minutes. Chop fennel fronds and garnish casserole just before serving.