Eating for Life

Onions ring in the New Year

Food styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA/photo by JIM BARCUS/The Kansas City Star
Egg whites and crushed cornflakes make a healthier breading for Guilt-Free Onion Rings.

Still resolved to strip your diet of excess in 2006?

There’s no need to cry just at the thought of indulging in a batch of The Star’s Guilt-Free Onion Rings. The trick to this recipe: We swap the egg yolk and a seasoned flour mixture for a lighter breading of egg whites and crushed cornflakes. Then the onion rings are baked instead of deep-fat fried.

But wait! The good-for-you health news doesn’t end there.

A workhorse of the kitchen, onions are often overlooked as a source of phytonutrients — including flavonoids and more than 50 sulfur-containing chemical compounds — which help protect against a host of medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, inflammation and a variety of cancers.

As in most fruits and vegetables, the phytonutrients are concentrated in the skin and outer layers. Cut an onion and the cell walls will rupture, producing thiopropanal sulfoxide, a substance that gives them their pungent smell and the ability to irritate the eyes and make us blubber at the sink.

To get the maximum health benefits from onions you need to let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes on the cutting board before cooking, according to SuperFoods Healthstyle: Proven Strategies for Lifelong Health by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews (William Morrow, 2006). Heat breaks down the thiopropanal sulfoxide so you want it to become as concentrated as possible before cooking.

Shopping tip: Although delicious, fresh sweet onions such as Vidalia, OSO and Walla Walla contain fewer flavonoids than yellow storage onions. Look for onions that have a tight neck and a crackly, shiny covering free of soft spots or blemishes.

Storage tip: Do not store onions with potatoes; the spuds give off moisture, which spoils the onions.

■ Cooking tips: If onions make you tear up, try chilling them in the refrigerator for an hour before chopping. Allow the onions to come to room temperature and rest after cutting. (For rings, cut through the midsection instead of from root end to tend.)

Use a food processor to crumb cornflakes to a fine crumb coating.

You may need to prepare two baking sheets to hold all the onion rings.

Guilt-free onion rings

Makes 4 servings

1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

1/4 cup finely crushed cornflakes

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional

1 to 2 medium yellow onions, sliced 1/4 -inch thick and separated into rings

2 slightly beaten egg whites

Vegetable cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with nonstick spray coating. In a shallow pie plate combine bread crumbs, cornflakes, salt and pepper. Dip onions into egg whites, then in crumb mixture. Arrange onion rings in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Spray onions with nonstick spray coating.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until the onions are tender and the coating is crisp and golden.

Per serving: 52 calories (7 percent from fat), trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 172 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Recipes developed for The Star by professional home economists Kathryn Moore and Roxanne Wyss.

Food styling by JILL WENDHOLT SILVA/Photo by JIM BARCUS/The Star