How would we cook without onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, leek, and chives? Not only are they fundamentally important in cooking and a key ingredient in many meals, they also come from the same family.
All these vegetables belong to the Allium genus – whether the dinner bell rings for rice and beans, stir fry or soup, some sort of allium comes to the table.
Members of the allium family are easy to recognise. They share the same basic body type: thin, grasslike leaves that all emerge from one point on a thickened stem or bulb, and fleshy roots emerging from a small area on the bottom of the plant. From long leeks down to delicate chives, the form is similar. Some alliums have showy flowers appearing in catalogs of flowering bulbs.
Most of the time, we eat the bulb, especially in the case of garlic, chives and leeks. In order to discourage your allium enjoyment, allium plants will absorb sulfur from the ground and store it. If you puncture the bulb, perhaps cutting into an onion with a knife, enzymes will be released turning the sulfur into an acid. While that acid may not dissolve your skin or burn through metal, it will certainly make you cry!
While there are hundreds of members (750 to be exact) of the allium family, the most well-known and used are our cooking basics.
Onions – The most popular are the red and white onion. White onions are an especially sharp variety best chopped or sliced raw into salads, whereas red onions love the oven and lend themselves to slow-roasting.
Shallots – Shallots don’t store as well as onions, but they are very versatile and add a delicate, distinctive flavour to salads and cooked dishes.
Chives – Use the leaves in salads, soups, egg dishes and casseroles to emphasise flavours.
Leeks – The delicate flavour of a leek comes out when slowly cooked. Both the green leaves and white stalk can be used in cooking.
Garlic – Zesty, aromatic and pungent, garlic adds flavour to almost any cooked dish.
Scallions – A mild, flavourful onion typically used raw in salads to accentuate their crunchy texture.