Monica Bielanko
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All About Onions

Onions amaze me. They confuse me too. In fact, they probably confuse me more than they amaze me but I've been studying up on 'em so I'm hoping to flip that ratio on its head.

A couple weeks ago I planted three different kinds of tiny, onion bulbs (also called sets) in our garden. I may or may not have gotten carried away. Serge might have done a triple take when he saw how many onions I planted. My friend Shawna may have tried to hide her giggles when she saw the enormity of my onion patch. But, well. We eat a lot of onions. We use yellow and green onions on a daily basis in different stir fries we cook. We use the red onions for salsas and taco nights. Also, I was doubtful about my ability to grow things so I might have been hedging my onion bets. But I needn't have worried. This week my onions are popping up all over the place.

The tops of all onions look like green onions, which ignited my onion confusion; are the tops of all onion plants considered green onions? Is that where green onions come from or are they their own thing? And what's the difference between green onions and scallions? And chives? Where do they fit in? And what's all this about a spring onion?

Green onions are their own thing. They're the same thing as scallions (and are sometimes called spring onions.) They are a pungent onion you can use raw or cooked to add a delicious zing to just about any meal. Ever sautee some mushrooms and green onions in butter? Excellent side dish. They go in almost any stir fry, on grilled fish, in soups and salads or, if you're really into onions, they are even delicious grilled in olive oil on their own.

The green tops of the red, white and yellow onions I planted that you see in the photo above will grow larger and larger and even begin to fall over and then I'll know it's time to harvest the onions, pulling them up to see how big the bulbs have grown. The green tops are kind of like scallions or green onions - except more mature - and can be used in place of scallions or chives if you want, but they aren't exactly the same thing. I could chop them into a tuna salad for sandwiches, could use in an omelet or on a baked potato in place of chives, whatever strikes my fancy.

Chives are herbs and typically have a more mild flavor than green onions and you'd use them when you want an oniony flavor but don't want big chunks in your dish; like in a dip or as a garnish over a meal. However, if you don't have chives on hand you can dice the very greenest part of a green onion as a substitute, but use less because the green onion is more pungent than chives.

You can grow red, white and yellow onions from seeds or bulbs, like I did but there is a really great trick to growing green onions over and over again. Just buy a bunch of green onions from the produce section of your grocery store and snip off the white part, like so:

I cut right where the green starts to fade into the white. Now, put the green onions in a bag and throw those back in your fridge (best used in one week) and put the white bottoms in a cup of water:

Give it a couple days and you'll start to see tiny green shoots of onion re-growing out of the bulb. Look! I done growed something!

Now, just like I'm about to do, head out to the nearest patch of dirt and plant those suckers and you'll have a fresh crop of green onions in no time! Do it over and over again with each new batch and you'll have an endless supply of fresh, green onions for all these delicious recipes. For fun you can also keep a batch in your window sill just because it's nice to have stuff growing all around you.

As a further FYI to complete your onion lesson for today, here is the difference between yellow, white and red onions:

Yellow: This is the all-purpose onion and the one I use the most. It's what I planted the most of in my garden, drafted Tiger to guard the whole thing and she's (He? I don't know! She/he doesn't want her business inspected and I wouldn't know what to look for if she/he did. Cats are weird eunuchs.) taking shit very seriously.
No tuch ma unyunz.

Yellow onions are, in my humble opinion, the most evenly flavored of all the onions. I like to cook mine until they're nice and sweet. I also like how they have nice, meaty insides. Note: spanish onions are a type of yellow onion and are typically sweeter than regular yellow onions.

White onions are sharper flavored than yellow onions. Their skin is more papery and the actual onion is more tender than the meatier yellow onion. I use these minced in salsas or finely dice them for toppings on soups and baked potatoes.

Red onions are the most astringent of the mix, in my opinion. I eat these at night and I taste them in the morning. I use these guys sparingly, buying one a week, and putting them raw in salsas or salads.

Sweet onions are the Vidalias or Walla Wallas. They're the best on sandwiches and other foods you want a raw onion because they're not pungent at all. Serge makes killer onion rings out of these guys.

Although technically an onion shallots are kind of a cross between an onion and garlic. If you don't want to use a pungent onion use a shallot, it's more delicate and has a tinge of garlic to it.

I buy one shallot a week and use it to punch up or brighten any meal. They're often sold next to the garlic in grocery stores. You can use a sweet onion like a Vidalia and a pinch of garlic to get a flavor similar to that of a shallot, if you don't have any on hand.

Onions are complex and intense, right? They are, like, the Daniel Day-Lewis of the vegetable world. Did you know his full name is Daniel Michael Blake Day-Lewis and he has both British and Irish citizenship. If that's not green onion/scallion-y I don't know what is.

There will be a test on onions Monday. Any questions? What's your favorite onion? What's your favorite onion recipe? Class dismissed.

Reader Comments (17)

I reader here from the Knoxville area. Also a veterinarian, and here's a bit of useless (but fun!) information for you. Your little feline garden extraordinaire is female. Her color pattern is calico, and 99.99% of calicos are female. In order to carry that particular color pattern they have to have XX chromosomes. The .01% of calico cats that are males are XXY, which makes them sterile. There - I'm sure you wanted to know that! And I'm totally doing the onions in the window thing. What a great idea!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertina

I am gettin my green on this very minute and startin me up some of those green onion window sill dillies...Love this piece of onion education Missy!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermama

We can't wait to start our veggie garden this year - we'll have to plant from seedlings since we got a late start, though.

Favorite onion recipe? Onion soup. No contest. The master, Madame Julia Child's recipe is the all around best, but you could try substituting mushroom stock for the beef stock since you're all veggie these days :) It's surprisingly easy to cook - takes more patience than skill.

If you haven't tried these yet, you definitely should:

I discovered them at Fairway when I lived in NY, and now I can't do without them. I normally stay away from bouillon cubes for chicken or beef, and use broth or stock instead, but porcinis are pricey, so these little cubes are a good substitute for making porcini broth.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrace

I use shallots almost every other day in meals. They are one of the tastiest additions you can put into almost any meal.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterB.E. Earl

@Tina - Oh my hell! That is so cool that you just left that comment. I've been feeding this stray for a year and I love her so much and she always felt very feminine to me but I've never been sure. Thank you so much!

I have another stray I've been feeding, that isn't calico patterned, do you think you can tell via photo? If not, what is the best way for ME tell.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who...

Monica, unless you can email me a close up, decent quality photo of the cat's anus and what lies directly below it (did I just type that out in a comment? I feel really weird saying anus outside of work), I'm afraid I won't be able to tell the sex of the cat. But, in addition to the calico pattern, the tortoiseshell color pattern (also a orange, black, and white coloration) also requires XX chromosomes. And most orange cats (probably 80%) are male - not sure of the science behind that one. That being said, if you want to email me a picture, go right ahead :)

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertina

@Tina - Okay, so the cat I'm wanting to know about is orange! This cat who I also felt was a girl but may very well be a boy?

side shot:

Got a verdict? I am so excited! And wait! If this cat's a boy and Tiger is a girl then I need to get her fixed pronto? Even if they don't seem friendly?

May 17, 2013 | Registered CommenterMonica

Tiger is a girl. She's a calico. Calico males are incredibly rare.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Oh, and please get them fixed!!! I've had to deal with too many feral cats, all born of one female. You do not want to end up with 16 cats in the space of a year, do you? Though, if there haven't been any kittens yet, it is likely they are already fixed.

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Since Tiger is calico, I'm going to say she's a she. 99% of calico cats are female!

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStill Playing School

Must be very exciting to see the veggies of yourr labor! I read somewhe that onions should not be stored after they are cut due to a problem with bacteria. I was going to check that out but was distracted by this useful informaiton:

May 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

AAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaand obviously I didn't read the previous comments before I posted!

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStill Playing School

based on the pictures I betcha it's a boy - the cat just has that tom cat scruffy appearance (I mean that in a non cat prejudice way). Here is a slightly hilarious but fairly accurate link to determining cat gender.

And yes, he and she should be altered so there will be less strays to go hungry :) Did you know that females can have up to 4 litters a year, and those babies can have babies as early as 5 1/2 months. That's a lot kittens!

Glad I could help, and keep us updated!

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertina

That is so cool! I'm going to try it!

May 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterelleroy

I love purple onions, although most of them make my eyes water like crazy when I cut them. One of our favorite recipe is grilled veggies - I use zucchini, yellow squash, pea pods, different colors of peppers, mushrooms and LOTS of purple onions (eggplant and tomatoes are good, too). I cut them all up and toss them with olive oil and season salt (Nature's Seasoning is a favorite) and some non-salt spices, then throw them all in a couple of grill baskets (purchased at our local hardware store years ago - they're enameled metal with holes cut out, not screen type) and grill them on fairly high heat, stirring often. They are SO good! And if we need something else with them, I'll add some shrimp, which I de-tail and toss with a little olive oil and seasoning, then brown on the grill when the veggies are a few minutes from being done...

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHanni

loved this post! adding to my confusion about onions was that I only learned how to cook after moving to Japan, so I only knew the Japanese names for them, though now I think i got the English down too. one of my favorite things to do with onions is to cut the white parts of the thick green onions and sautee them in butter for soup. Sooooo soooo good. Sweet maybe? I dunno, just GOOD. You can add just about anything to the soup and it will be perfect.

May 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I hope your onions turns out well in the garden! Please keep us posted! I tried 3 years running and I think my soil is just too much clay for them to grow. I get beautiful and HUGE green tops that fall over but when I pull them up to harvest the bulbs have gone from pea sized to maybe marble sized. I can't grow carrots either. Maybe I'll get a shit ton of sand and turn a corner of my soil over the next couple of years and try again.

May 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterREK981

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