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Thyme for Cooking Kitchen Food Tips: Alliums

Onions: Onions come in many varieties and colors.  I normally use the common white onion; occasionally the Spanish or red onion.  I can't get the sweet onions available in the U.S.: Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, but do suggest them when appropriate instead of the red onion I use.

To use:  Peel the onion and cut in half, vertically, through the stem end. 

For vertical slices: continue slicing in the same direction
For regular slices: lay each onion half flat and slice horizontally, making half circle slices
To chop: lay each onion half flat, slice vertically, then horizontally.  To make it easier to do the horizontal cuts, leave 1/8" uncut at one end when you do the vertical slices.

Shallots:  Shallots are brown-skinned, smaller than onions, milder and sweeter with just a hint of garlic.  They are easy and quick to grow in the garden and very common in Mediterranean cooking.  They grow in clusters, more similar to garlic than in single bulbs like onions.  They are good both raw and cooked.

To use: Peel and slice in rings or cut in half and chop similar to the onion

If unavailable you can substitute 1/2 of a small onion and 1/2 clove of garlic for each shallot in cooked dishes; 1/2 of a red or 1/4 sweet onion (they tend to be large) if used raw.

Garlic:    Garlic grows in clusters or 'heads'. The individual segment is called a clove. You can find both white and purple.  (Elephant garlic is related but not the same.  It's actually closer to a leek, and quite mild.)

To use: Peel garlic by smashing it with the flat of a knife or the heel of you hand. Then remove the peel with your fingers.  It can then be minced (chopped finely with a knife) or crushed using a special garlic crusher or the flat of a knife.

Some dishes will call for whole cloves, either peeled or not.  These will normally be cooked a long time and will be very creamy and almost sweet, not sharp like raw garlic.  If cooked unpeeled: eat by taking one end of the skin in your fingers and squeezing: the garlic will pop out.

To store:    Store onions, garlic and shallots in open containers with good air circulation.  A cool, dry place is best.  Do not refrigerate and do not store with or near other vegetables, particularly potatoes.  Storing onions and potatoes close to each other will cause both to spoil.

Leeks:     Leeks do not form a bulb but, rather, look like a giant green onion or scallion.  They are milder in flavor than onions and are used both as an added ingredient for seasoning and as a vegetable.  They are normally grown in sandy soil so need to be washed before using.

To use:  Slice off the top leaving about an inch of green, then slice off the stem end.  Slice the leek in half the long way.  Discard the outer layer (more if it is damaged).  Rinse the leek halves under running water, fanning the layers, to get out any remaining sand.  If there is a hard core in the center, pull it out and toss - it just means that the leek was left in the ground a bit too long and was getting ready to flower.  Drain and follow the recipe instructions, either slicing (crosswise about 1/16 of an inch thick( .15cm)) or leaving in one piece for blanching.

To Store:   Leeks should be stored in the refrigerator.  You can cut off the majority of the dark green top to make it easier.