May 112015

Knowing Your Onions

A chef friend once told me the two simplest surefire things you can do to improve flavors in everyday cooking are: 1. Cook with butter. 2. Always use shallots instead of onions.

I think of this often because I love shallots. Compared to their beefier cousins like the Spanish white or yellow, their delicate flavor is like a little kiss on the cheek—satisfying yet leaves me longing for more.

In the garden this week it’s all onions, lettuce and peas. Those are the only things we grow that’s hearty enough to stand up to a Vermont spring, which will likely include snow or at the very least one more hard frost before May ends. Memorial Day. That’s when we really plant most food and flowers here, and not until after the full moon.

There’s a sense of optimism that comes with inserting onion sets into the soil. It’s a start of something good. We’ve grown them from seed in the past, but the more mature sets, which re really just immature onions, seem to fare better in our abbreviated growing season. Typically you’ll find green, yellow and red in our plot alongside leeks, shallots and garlic. We are big Allium fans, as you can see. Go Allium! (And, yes, go Patriots, Steelers and Orioles.)

Liking onions turns out to be a good thing because they’re layered with healthful benefits. Besides being rich in vitamins B, C, and E, onion’s superpowers also include: discouraging blood clotting, lowering heart rates and aiding in digestion. Toss in some minerals: phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and super-desirable sulfurs and you’ve got a pretty powerful friend in onions.

Perhaps more surprising is that our stinky little compadres contain more disease-fighting quercetin than what’s found in many of the more commonly celebrated “extremely good for you” vegetables. (Hear that broccoli?) The health benefits of onions are at their highest when eaten raw. That said, some benefits are retained enough during cooking so enjoying them caramelized can be forgiven. And understood, yum. Raw or cooked, stock up on the breath mints, or a parsely.

Yes. There is that bothersome eye-tearing, sniffling, and overwhelming tangy odor that clings to just about everything, including our breaths. But don’t hate on that – because apparently the more pungency, the more sulfur compounds, the better for you. So occasionally sporting a little eau de onion may not be such a bad idea.

And here are some mints.


Very excitable and prone to fits of glee, Christine cooks on a vintage 1950 General Electric double-oven stove, does not have a dishwasher unless you count the husband, and is guilty of posting cat cuteness on the interwebs. She photographs and blogs about food and other joyful topics from her home in Vermont.

Co-Author of Garden Candy Basics

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