Food Topic: Onions
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Since I finally planted my onions in the garden, I thought I would talk about onions today.  There are many different kinds of onions on the market.   The key to purchasing onions (including shallots, cipolline onions and pearl onions) is to look at the condition they are in.  You want to purchase firm, heavy, unblemished, onions with dry papery skin, avoiding softness, sprouting, moisture, rot and black mold.  For onions with green stems look for freshness, long white stems, avoiding  wilt, rot, browning, yellowing, looseness, flower stalk, bulbing (with the exception of bulbing scallions) and excessive trimming. At the end of this page is a recipe for Roasted Shallots.  This makes a wonderful, yet quick appetizer.

Equivalents:   5 medium onions = 1 pound = 2 cups chopped = 3 cups sliced
1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

Spring/Summer Fresh
These onions have a thinner skin and should also be firm but not as hard as a storage onion. Choose onions free of cuts and bruises. Remember, fresh onions are higher in water content, which make them more delicate and susceptible to bruising. Their water content also shortens their shelf life in contrast to storage type onions. Store spring/summer fresh onions in a well-ventilated, cool dry place or in refrigeration to sustain their quality.

Fall/Winter Storage
The storage onion is nature’s original convenience food. It can be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place for weeks-even months without loss of vitamins or minerals. Don't store in piles, since a single layer ensures a longer life.

Substitutes:  white bulbs of leeks OR shallots OR green onions-scallions (Cook these for no more than a minute.) OR fresh chives

Here is a brief description of the many different kinds of onions available in the market:

Bermuda onion- These bulb-shaped onions have a sweet mild flavor.  They're available in the spring.  Substitutes: Spanish onion OR yellow onion OR sweet onion (sweeter) OR red onion  

boiling onion- These are small versions of yellow, white, or red onions.  They're up to two inches in diameter, and usually cooked whole.   Substitutes: pearl onions (smaller) OR cippolini onion  

cippolini onion- Pronunciation:  chip-ah-LEE-nee- These round, flat Italian onions are about one to two inches in diameter and are great pickled or poached in flavored broth as an accompaniament to meats. Substitutes:  boiling onion OR pearl onion  

leeks- Leeks look like large green onions, and they have a more complex onion flavor. They're often cooked as a vegetable side dish, or used in soups. Be sure to wash them thoroughly before cooking as the leaves are notorious for collecting dirt because the soil is pulled up around the plant as it grows to blanch the base white.   Substitutes:  yellow onion OR asparagus (as a side vegetable) OR ramps  

pearl onion- These tiny onions are sweet and mild.  About one inch in diameter, they're often pickled or creamed.  Substitutes: boiling onion (larger) OR cippolini onion 

ramp- These have a strong onion-garlic flavor which tends to linger on the breath.  Ramps tend to be pricey and are usually found in gourmet produce markets.   They're available from March to June.   Substitutes:  leeks (milder, larger) OR Chinese chives Or green garlic

red onion- These are sweet enough to eat raw, and they're often used to add color to salads.  They're also excellent grilled or lightly cooked.   Substitutes:   Spanish onion OR green onions (in salads) OR sweet onion OR white onion   

scallions- also called green onion-  Equivalents:   1 bunch = 1/4 pound = 1/2 cup sliced.  These are onions that have small bulbs and long green stalks. They're usually eaten raw, but you can also grill or sauté or stir fry them.  Substitutes:  spring onions OR leeks OR shallots OR chives (if used raw)  

shallot- they are shaped like small brown onions with papery brown skins.  They have a more delicate, garlicky flavor than other cooking onions, and are a common ingredient in French sauces.  Many people find them too hot to eat raw.   They're available year-round.  Substitutes:  green onions (white part only) OR onions (1 small onion = 3 shallots) + dash crushed garlic  

Spanish onion- These are similar to yellow onions, only larger and a bit sweeter.  Substitutes:  Bermuda onion OR red onion (sweeter) OR yellow onion 

storage onion- These onions are available year-round, since their low water content prevents molding during storage.   Since storage makes onions more pungent, these onions are usually cooked before eating.   This category includes the yellow onion, white onion, red onion, Spanish onion, and Bermuda onion.

sweet onion-  These onions are mild and crisp, so they're the onions of choice for slicing raw on burgers and sandwiches.   They can be lightly cooked, too, though they're not as pungent and flavorful as storage onions.  There are several different varieties, often named after the region in which they're grown.  The most popular include Vidalia, Walla Walla, Sweet Imperial, Texas Spring Sweet, Texas 1015Y, Carzalia Sweet, Oso Sweet, Arizona, Granex, and Maui.  They're usually available from March through August, though some producers extend the season by storing them in a low-oxygen environment.  Sweet onions are usually larger than storage onions.  They also have a higher water content, so they don't keep as well.   Substitutes:   Spanish onion (This isn't as sweet, so consider adding up to one tablespoon of sugar per onion to the recipe.) OR Bermuda onion (This isn't as sweet, so consider adding up to one tablespoon of sugar per onion to the recipe.) OR red onion OR bulbs of green onions

white onion- These popular cooking onions are often called for in Hispanic dishes, since they have a cleaner, more tangy flavor than yellow onions.  They're slightly more prone to mold than yellow onions, so store them in a dry, well-ventilated place.  Substitutes:   Spanish onions OR yellow onions OR sweet onions

yellow onion-  This is what most cooks reach for when a recipe simply calls for "onion."  It's higher in sulfur than the white onion, so it has a more complex flavor.  The sulfur, unfortunately, is also what makes you cry when you cut into it.  Yellow onions turn a rich brown and become sweeter and milder when cooked.  Many people find them too pungent to eat raw.  Substitutes: Spanish onion OR white onion

onion flakes = dried minced onion = dehydrated onion flakes   Notes:   These are onions that have been chopped and then dehydrated.  They lack much of the pungency of fresh onions, but they're convenient and great for backpacking.   Equivalents:  1 small onion = 1/3 cup = 1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes  Substitutes:  onion powder (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes) OR onion (1/3 cup chopped fresh onion = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes)

onion powder  Notes:  Onion powder isn't as pungent as fresh onions, but it's a great time-saver.   Substitutes:  Onion flakes (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes) OR onion (1 teaspoon onion powder = 1/3 cup chopped onion)


This is a nice recipe for an easy appetizer:

Roasted Shallots
Yield: enough for 2 people

3 shallots, rinsed, unpeeled
1 T olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves, rinsed, unpeeled

Toss shallots, skin and all, in the olive oil.  Roast 20 minutes at 350 degrees in a shallow pan.   Add whole garlic cloves and roast 10 minutes more.  Cut the stem end off of the shallots and squeeze out the shallot pulp.  Do the same with the garlic.  Stir together and season with fresh cracked black peppercorns and salt to taste. 
Serve with crusty bread or whole grain crackers and fresh fruit.



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