Sunday, March 23, 2008

Raw Emotion - Simple Pearl Onion Salad

When one lists the essential elements of a compelling espionage story, the kind that leaves you breathless but ultimately flattened by the sucker punch in the gut, most would include tension, intrigue, deception, secrets, loyalty, and betrayal. These very qualities are also the complicated netting in the most successful narratives depicting affairs of the heart, specifically those which examine the violation of vows within a marriage. Graham Greene knew both worlds intimately, and wrote about them with a mastery of not only language, but an elusive understanding as deep and mysterious as the scenarios he actually lived.

Many are familiar with Greene’s work through a number of stellar films ((The Third Man, 1949; The Heart of the Matter, 1953; The Power and the Glory (known as The Fugitive, 1947)), but there is one novel, though twice filmed, that can only be justly accessed, pondered and felt through its pages. The End of the Affair tells anything but the prosaic platitudes that taint many a tale of adultery. It is a disquietingly painful and complex portrayal of three souls whose trajectory is as layered and pungent as an onion.

In fact, it all starts with onions. Maurice, an embittered writer, and Sarah, the dutiful and discontented wife of Henry, an amiable civil servant, enjoy an innocent lunch while discussing plot points from one of Maurice’s novels, or rather, the film version of which they have just seen. As they are dickering over realism, Sarah alludes to the likelihood that a straying wife can avoid the welcome-home kiss of her onion-averse husband by eating onions earlier in the day with her lover. In a scene which could be condemned by cynics as transparently implausible in its synchronicity, a waiter brings some onions to their table. The two quickly ignite into a furtive relationship plagued by Maurice’s devouring jealousy and Sarah’s restless weariness.

But the adultery is only the exposition for the real story. Abruptly and without explanation, Sarah ends their liaisons, sending Maurice into a wretched decline of hostile despair, self-pity, and loathing for Sarah and Henry. Little does Maurice believe in love and sacrifice. Though Sarah is not faithful, she is not without faith. The power of The End of the Affair lies not in the mundane foibles of a romantic triangle, but in the mysteries of the deals we make with God, and those signs from above that propel the indecisive to take actions that are impulsive, redemptive and sometimes tragic, be it a plate of onions or a prayer answered.

Super-Simple Pearl Onion Salad - Based on the Maria Brazil recipe

Ingredients (per serving)

10 pearl onions (do not peel)
Drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Splash of lime juice
Scattering of sea salt
Baby greens, optional (I used arugula.)


Using a cutting board and a very sharp knife, thinly slice each onion. The peel will release without much trouble. Discard peel with the root and stem ends. Gently push a finger through each slice to create rings. If raw onions are too harsh for your taste, you can soak them for two hours in a bowl of cold water to remove some of the sulphur (see recipe link for more details). Arrange on plate and dress as desired.

This post is being submitted to Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, co-hosts of the seasonal event, Novel Food, celebrating what is eaten amid the pages of the stories we love to read.


Simona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

What a beautiful and insightful post. I've only seen the movie; must read the book. Thank you so much for joining in with us.

Simona said...

A haunting story. I saw the movie first, then read the book. It was interesting to consider the differences. The layered onions are a nice metaphor for the layers in the story that make it multi-faceted, unforgettable. Simple, yet complex, as we human beings are. Thank you!

glamah16 said...

Your posts are always a joy to read. I love your way with words.

Nanditha Prabhu said...

i loved the idea of novel food event!..that sounds interesting... and you have come up with a simple recipe and weaved a wonder with your words:)

Johanna said...

love your retelling of the story but the idea of uncooked onions is too much for me - I much prefer the aroma of frying onion :-)

sra said...

I think I've seen the movie. For no reason other than the name or the outcome, I'm also reminded of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. I've read both book and seen the movie - Wharton, I mean.

A beautiful post as always!

Raw onions are a common accompaniment to North Indian food - they are soaked in vinegar, coloured pink and served with some pickle. I love them if they are done well!

Ann said...

One of my favorite novels of all time-- and one I first read when I was 15 years old. I come back to it every few years and always find something new. I love your use of the pearl onions here-- both the narrative foundation and your recipe are truly food for thought (and pearls of wisdom). Lovely post!

Cookie baker Lynn said...

What a lovely post and a beautiful, simple salad. My husband definitely wouldn't want me to kiss him at the end of the day if I ate that, though!

Lucy said...

Such a complex novelist is Greene, so good at capturing what it means to be an adult human, that I'm always left somewhat awestruck. Dazzlingly good. You are so very right - this really is a book best savoured in its written form.

Such an emotive piece. The string bag of pearl onions feels marvellous, bound in here with your words.

Fearless Kitchen said...

I haven't read the novel, but it seems like it would have about the same effect on me as slicing the raw onions would...

On a more prosaic note, while I'm generally pretty strongly affected by raw onions, I find that adding something to the bowl (like the lime juice you called for) cuts the problem. Using swim goggles helps me get to that point.

Richa said...

this simple salad sure does pack a punch!

Susan said...

Thank you, Lisa. The book is extraordinary; it spoiled me. In my opinion, neither film version measures up. Hope you read it someday.
Simona – Thank you. As you know, the Neil Jordan film is very different towards the end than the novel. As always, I enjoyed participating in Novel Food.
Thanks, Coco!
Nanditha – Thanks so much. Novel Food is a quarterly event. Perhaps you will join in the summer issue?
Thanks, Johanna. The chemical composition of onions sure does change once you turn up the heat. Quite a transformation!
Sra – Thank you! There are vague similarities on the themes of lost love and duty in both stories, but Greene and Wharton’s novels are quite different. I’ve read "The Age of Innocence” and have seen the film – loved them both.

As I was researching a raw onion recipe, I first thought of the Indian onion and tomato chutney usually served at the restaurants I frequent, but decided on one that, perhaps, the English protagonists would have enjoyed (though I suspect they were pickled!).
Hi, Ann. My paperback is badly beaten up for the same reason. I enthusiastically agree that there is always some little nuance you missed the last time you read it. Thanks for your kind words.
Thanks, Lynn! My husband and I have a deal where we both have to eat raw onions at the same meal or neither one of us does. Works for us!
Lucy – The characters have too much going on in their heads and hearts for the story to neatly translate to film. Though both films disappoint me, the novel never shall.

I loved that little bag of golden pearls. It almost hurt to cut it open.
Welcome, Fearless Kitchen! Surprisingly, the story is not a tearjerker. It’s never made me cry, but has left me w/ a dull ache that lasts for days. Cutting onions, however, always has me weeping buckets! ; ) If there was only a way to cut them under water! Thanks for your visit.
Richa – It is deceptive, isn’t it?! ; )

Kelly-Jane said...

Lovely post, and clean and simple salad :)

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Gosh, Susan, I feel as if I just read the novel. You so skillfully lured me into that world.

Cynthia said...

You weave the recipes and books so well, so eloquently.

Dhanggit said...

oh susan as usual what an eloquent writing (without counting your magnificent photos and recipes) i definitely missed reading your blog my glad to be back from holidays!!

ps, i love using this type of onions for my onion confiture the one we served with foie gras, i never tried making salad out of them..i better try one of these days

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie ~ I always suspected there was more to the story that what was revealed in both film representations. Now I will add this to my list of books to read.

As for the onion salad itself, a perfect compliment to Mediterranean platters or to liven up a plain pilaf, I feel. Lime juice, olive oil and sea salt make an attractive dance on the palate with these pearl onions.

Swati: Sugarcraft India said...

Sweet Susan
Apologies for my sudden disappearance..
Your concoction of words is magnificent.. Very eloquent!!
A really lovely way of dressing onions!!

Rosa said...

I love your onion metaphor, and I just happen to have one of those little string bags of pearl onions lying around... thank you!

Susan said...

Thank you, Kelly-Jane!
Susan – Thank you so much. High praise, indeed. Glad you enjoyed it.
Thanks, Cynthia. : )
Good to see you, dear Dhanggit! Thanks for your kind words. There are so many lovely little recipes for onions, yet we often relegate them to bit player. Shame, really.
Shaun – Thanks, dear. Pilaf, a marvelous idea.

I would not have thought a heavily religious novel would embed its hook in me so deeply, yet it is specifically b/c of its theme that it is such a staggering work. We must talk after you read it.
Hello, Swati! No apology necessary; we all have so many things pressing on our days. Thanks always. Good to see you.
Thanks, Rosa. Well, if you don’t have a little string bag of onions lying around the south of France, then I don’t know where they would be. ; )