When the onion sits in the field, it raises its green shoots up toward the sun to drink in all those golden rays and perform it magical photosynthesis. Simultaneously, it sends its roots down into the soil to find the minerals and nutrients necessary for its growth. We call the green end the feminine end or the yin end; and we term the root end the masculine end or yang end.
May I urge you to fetch an onion at this point and cut off the feminine end? Good. Sniff it. Sweet isn’t it? Okay, now cut off the masculine end. Sniff it. Yup, that is the potent end. The end where all the tears are stored! But we knew that, didn’t we, ladies? So now, let me ask you another question – how do Americans normally slice an onion? Right, we normally slice them across its diameter to fit on a burger or sandwich, or to make onion rings, or to toss into a salad. Right? Okay, now look at it more carefully. Notice the lines of growth as they run from stem to stern as it were. Doesn’t it say cut me along the dotted line? Yes, it does and why? So that a bit of the sweet feminine and the strong masculine flavors and energies can be enjoyed all at once! Cut this way no one gets all of the “Mmm, exceptionally sweet onion;” and no one gets only “Ugh, ONION!!!”
The thing to remember is that the longer, the slower the cooking of them, the sweeter they get. They can be sautéed, fried, sweated, steamed and boiled. They can also be pickled and put into vinegars, salad dressings and a wide variety of condiments. They are the staple vegetable of the pantry and few are the dishes that begin without them.
Red Onions are sometimes called Italian Onions.
They are mild and have a sweet flavor. They are beautifully blushed with red throughout the vegetable and are very attractive in salads and other dishes. Bermuda Onions are similar in shape and color to the Italian Red Onion. However, they appear to be squatter in shape. You might say that they are perhaps shaped more like the onion domes of mosques or the Kremlin.
Yellow Onions have a rich copper or golden brown colored skin.
They are usually smaller in size and are the most pungent of all onions. They are a great all purpose onion and are readily available year round. Their skins are lovely when used to flavor and color stock.
Spanish Onions are a beautiful pale copper color; they are quite large and very sweet.
They are the perfect size when you are cooking for a crowd, and pack fewer tears. Like their smaller cousins the Yellow Onion, their skins are an excellent choice when used to flavor and color stock for soups, sauces and gravy.
Vidalia Onions are an incredibly beautiful champagne color; they are quite large and have a particularly sweet flavor.
This specialty onion is named for a town in Georgia. A larger onion, they are a perfect size when you are cooking for a crowd, and they too pack fewer tears.
White Onions are the chameleons of the family.
They come in a wide variety of strengths, shapes and sizes; from tiny silvery ones which are great served with peas or in a creamy white sauce, to the large ones that are a superb choice for a versatile player in a soup or stew. There is no way to predetermine their strength but they are definitely a more potent onion than the Vidalia or the Spanish Onion.
Shallots have a coppery or pinkish skin and are the smaller, more tender and less intensely flavored member of the onion family.
They dissolve easily into sauces. They are not baby onions but are their own species.
Spring Onions or Scallions are the delight of the garnishing chef.
Whether they are cut and curled in ice water or sliced thinly in a sprinkle across the top of a sauce or grain dish they add just the right touch of onion and color.
Leeks are the sandiest members of the onion family.
You will need to cut them lengthwise and carefully cleanse them of sand under running water.
They have their own distinctive flavor which is often featured in soups and stews, and excellent in leek pie, or served in a creamy sauce. They can be sweated or fried gently in butter for a few minutes but they ought not to be fried until they are brown as they will toughen and be unappealing. Leeks are an ancient food that has enjoyed popularity in Ancient Egypt as well as Europe and has been the emblem of Wales for centuries.
Ramp is seldom if ever found in our grocery stores.
However, when it is available at a Farmer’s Market it is usually a Canadian variety. Use it as you would Spring Onion or Scallions.
Garlic is an excellent source of strong flavor in all manner of food preparations.
It also has distinctive therapeutic properties. It is a strong antibiotic, lowers serum blood cholesterol thereby helping to prevent heart disease, and it increases the absorption of vitamins. Furthermore, there is evidence that it has a beneficial effect against cancer and strokes. All of which is a plus, plus given that we like it so well in so many wonderful ethnic recipes.
Elephant Garlic is bigger and milder than the smaller white or purple varieties.
Please let us know if our varieties of onions page was helpful!