It's hard to think of life - the culinary part, anyway - without onions. The vegetable, a member of the allium family (which includes garlic, leek and lilies), is as basic as salt and pepper in many cuisines. Although most people think of onions as being pungent and strong, the flavour and aroma can also be sweet and/or mild, depending on the variety. Some types, such as the vildalia and maui (named after the areas in the United States in which they are grown) are delicious raw but most varieties benefit from being cooked. Recipes often require onion to be cooked over a low heat until it is soft because long, slow cooking draws out the sweetness of the vegetable. If cooked for long enough, onion will caramelise. Many remedies have been attempted to prevent 'onion tears' - an effect that occurs when volatile sulfenic acids are released as the vegetable is sliced. For many years, I thought I was immune to onion tears; it was only when I had corrective eye surgery that made it unnecessary to wear contacts that I realised the lenses had had another use apart from making it easier to see. If you suffer from onion tears, instead of putting in contact lenses, try wearing swimming goggles. Putting the onions in the fridge is said to help subdue the release of the irritants, as is using a very sharp knife (which you should be doing anyway). One of the junkiest of junk foods - and one of the most delicious, if done well - are fried onion rings. Most of the time, the dish is ruined by a thick, oily batter that obliterates the taste. For really delicious onion rings, slice the vegetable (thick or thin, depending on your preference) and soak it in milk. Drain the onion then dredge it in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne and paprika. Cook the rings in small batches in oil heated to 190 degrees Celsius, then drain on paper towels. The best version of onion bhaji I ever tasted used three varieties: red, yellow and spring onion. Season chickpea flour with turmeric, ground cumin and coriander seeds, whole black mustard seeds, cayenne and salt. Add enough water to make a thick batter. Add just enough batter to the sliced onions to bind them together then scoop spoonfuls of the mixture into the hot oil.