With their sharp pungent flavor that mellows to slight sweetness when cooked, onions are an essential condiment in every cuisine.

Soups, stocks, marinades, all types of meat and chicken dishes, salads, pickles and chutneys, all can do with onions.

Onions are a vegetable and as such can be baked, stewed, stuffed, boiled, glazed and served as side dish or garnish, served with cheese sauce. Grilled, sautéed or roasted, onions are great in quiches and pies.

Onions are a condiment as well and add flavor to all sort of stews and casseroles, sauces and soups. Although the aroma of some onions is so strong that it makes eyes water, once cooked all have a mild sweet flavor that enhances the taste of other ingredients. Even if their taste does not stand out, food would be utterly insipid without onions.

How to identify onions

Their origin is not certain. Onions are the edible bulbs of a plant form the same family as garlic, chives, or leeks. They come as a single on or a cluster of bulbs, large and small. The papery skin varies from white to red, with brown, yellow and purple in between.

Onions have variety

Spanish onions: large, round, light brown color skin, mild but fully flavored. These don't came necessarily from Spain. Good for cooking and salads.

Red onions, salad onions: gentle taste, skin varies from red to white, frequently eaten raw in salads.

Pear onions: also known as pickling onions. The bulbs are small, skin varies from light brwon to silver. Pickled whole.

Shallots: their name derives from Ascalon in Palestine., where they were grown. Shallots are essential for sauce à la bordelaise and sauce marchand de vin, two red wine and onion sauces.

Green onions, spring: sleek and flavorful, they are immature onions where the bulb has not yet developed. Essential for Chinese and Japanese cooking.

Scallions: other member of the family, withe and straight at the bottom, green leaves at the top. Both white and green parts are edible.

Welsh onions: another type of bunching onions with a similar appearance to green onions with shoots only as thick as a pencil.

How to use and store

Onions are available in the grocery store all year through. They can be found fresh or dried. Dried onion coms as flakes or ground.

Peel fresh onions, chop and add to sauces and casseroles as needed. If kept in the fridge or peeled under running water, there is less danger of watering eyes. Scalding pickling onions in boiling water will make the peeling task easier. If you cannot stop crying, use dry onion flakes or ground onion.

Fresh onions keep for several weeks if stored in a cool, dark place. Stringing once dry and hanging from the wall or from beams has been standard practice for centuries. Spring onions should be stored in the fridge, in the vegetable draw. Keep dried onion in airtight containers, in a cool, dark, and dry place.

Peel and slice thinly mild flavored varieties and add to salad and sandwiches. Peel and use pear onions whole. Green onions are washed, sliced and added to salads and stir-fries.

Cooking with onions

Onions are used as condiment virtually in every cuisine. One of the first steps in many recipes is frying onion, finely chopped.

If a recipe calls for dry onion flakes and there is none at hand, substitute 1 Tbs onion flakes with:

  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped onion
  • 1 tsp onion salt and reduce salt in the recipe by 1/2 to 1 tsp
  • 2/3 cup chopped green onion, scallions or leeks, white and light green parts only.

You can substitute green onions with same amount of scallions, chopped leeks, chopped shallots, or chopped chives. One bunch of green onions will render only about 1 cup chopped white parts, or 3 chopped green and white parts.

You can substitute 1 tsp onion powder with:

  • 1 Tbs onion flakes
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped onion
  • 1/4 tsp asafoetida, flavor is a blend of onion and garlic
  • 1/2 tsp garlic granules, different flavor.

One medium sized sweet onion will render about 1 1/2 cups chopped onion.