Preparing Bulb Vegetables
Onions 101: The Basics
Onions and garlic are the most common types of edible bulbs. Onions come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavor intensities and can be prepared in an endless number of ways. With some types of onions only the bulb is consumed whereas with others both the bulb and the shoot are eaten. Onions and garlic have a distinct flavor that makes them all similar, but the intensity of flavor and varying degrees of harshness and sweetness is what distinguishes them from one another.
All About Green Onions
Onions are usually divided into two categories, green and dry. Green onions are those that are harvested while the shoots are still young and green and before the bulb has had time to mature. They are eaten raw and cooked. Scallions, spring onions, chives, and leeks all fall into this category. When purchasing green onions, look for those that have an even green color with no brownish patches. Avoid any that are limp, cracked, or dried out or yellowing. Green onions should be stored in the refrigerator.
All About Dry Onions
Dry onions can be red, white, or yellow in color and are harvested when the bulb has reached maturity, the shoots have died, and the onions are left with a papery covering. As these onions dry, the pigments in the skin determine color, which varies depending on variety. Dry onions for the most part are quite similar in flavor and can be used interchangeably in recipes. Some types of dry onions, such as Vidalias and Walla Wallas, are harvested very early and have a thinner skin and a higher concentration of sugar than other dry onions. These onions have such a sweet, mild flavor that they are often eaten raw. Shallots are another type of dry onion that is smaller than its counterparts and mild in flavor. Shallots tend to have two to three individual bulbs that grow next to each other under their papery outer skin.
When purchasing dry onions, look for those that are firm and have a dry, smooth outer skin. Avoid those with soft spots, sprouts, or mold. These onions should be stored in a well ventilated, cool, dark place away from potatoes, which give off moisture and cause the onions to sprout and rot. It is best not to store onions in the refrigerator because the moisture and lack of air circulation causes them to rot quickly.
All About Garlic
Garlic is grown in much the same way as dry onions and is harvested in the same way, once the shoots have died and the outer skin becomes tough. A bulb, or head, of garlic consists of a cluster of individual cloves that are each covered in papery, white skin. Garlic is revered for its contribution to both the culinary and medicinal worlds. Garlic adds a unique, delicious flavoring to foods and while it has a pungent, sometimes harsh flavor when eaten raw, the flavor mellows and sweetens as it is cooked.
Garlic is claimed to have medicinal benefits that range from reducing cholesterol, regulating blood sugar levels, fighting infections, and cancer prevention. Garlic should be stored in the same way as other dry onions, but because it has lower moisture content, it stores well in the refrigerator.
Recipe for Success
For more detailed instructions on how to prepare bulb vegetables, check out the delicious recipes on the right!
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.