Last month we covered Onions, but the most common varieties that are used every day in cooking throughout the world. Common Onions range from the pungent varieties used for dried soups and Onion Powder, to the mild and hearty Sweet Onions that can be sliced and eaten in a sandwich. This month we thought that as there are so many different varieties, we would give some information on some of the other popular Onions.
These Onions are also known as scallions or Green Onions, but are in fact very young Onions harvested before the bulb has had a chance to swell. Both the long, slender green tops and the small white bulb are edible and are good either raw or cooked. They have a similar flavour to Onions, but are much milder. They are available all year round and easy to grow in a vegetable patch from seed.
Choose the best plants and when buying, go for Spring Onions with firm, unblemished bulbs and bright green perky leaves. Avoid those that are slimy or wilting. The skin covering a Spring Onion bulb can be either white or deep red fading to white at the roots. There is no significant difference in taste. Similarly, the bulb can be quite pronounced or more like a leek in shape, with no noticeable swelling. Again, this has no impact on flavour.
If you are using them in salads, wash the Spring Onion bulb and trim off the root as well as any ragged ends at the top. If using in cooking, slice the bulb into rounds and cut the green tops across (kitchen scissors are good for this) or lengthways with a knife. The green tops are ideal for adding to Chinese cooking. If you want to make the tops into a garnish, cut into slim lengths, as above, then stand them in ice cold water for 30 minutes.
Spring Onions don’t last as long as traditional Onions, so use them within four or five days.
Shallots are referred to as Multiplier Onions and have bulbs that are smaller than those of Common Onions and look more like garlic. A single plant forms an aggregate cluster of several bulbs and reproduction from seed is possible. Inside, they do not have concentric structures like Onions, but are sectioned into cloves. The white flesh can have either red or purple streaks similar to a red or purple Onion. Shallots are strong, rich-tasting with a coppery brown, pinkish or a greyish-brown skin. Shallots are native to Israel and regions in the Mediterranean and were one of the foods that the Crusaders brought from the Middle East back to Europe.
Shallots are used in many of the same dishes where garlic and onions could be used, but they do not cause breath odours like Onions and garlic. They tend to have a faster cooking time than Onions, but they usually do not have as long of a storage life. Wine and Shallots are a popular cooking combination. They can be sautéed or caramelized, but like garlic and Onions, they can have too much of a strong taste if they become over browned. Some people prefer to roast them like garlic, leaving the skins on and then peeling and mashing them before use. Shallots can be used in cream or butter sauces as well as gravies and are used in many different cuisines, especially Asian.
Onions are one of the most popular vegetables as it is so versatile and it is estimated that around the World, over 9,000,000 acres are grown annually.