A Visual Guide to Alliums: Think Beyond Standard Onions and Garlic and Add These Varieties to Your Cooking
Yes, yellow and red onions are delicious, but there's a wide range of alliums worth using in the kitchen.
If you're like most home cooks, you always have yellow onions, a few red onions, and plenty of garlic on hand because alliums are endlessly useful in the kitchen. But these are certainly not the only alliums available to you, and there are a number of others that are easily found at farmers' markets and grocery stores that will further enhance the flavor of your meals. So, are you ready to expand your allium knowledge? Here, our primer on some less well-known types of allium, from garlic scapes to leeks to chives.
If you asked our test kitchen team to choose a favorite allium, their choice just might be shallots; they use them in everything from salads to roast beef. Smaller than the typical globe onion, shallots, or Allium cepa, grow in a cluster of compact bulbs. They are complex and intensely flavored, yet delicate enough to be used raw in vinaigrettes and sauces. They have a less powerful smell than onions and are available year round.
For garlic to produce the cloves we all know and love, the flower buds, or scapes, must be removed in early spring; the result is a bonus for cooks. Garlic scapes are snakelike in appearance, are slightly spicy, and have become a springtime delicacy.
Pulled from the ground before the bulbs have had a chance to form, spring onions look like scallions and can be used in the same way—they're great as a zesty garnish for soups and salads. They're actually immature storage onions harvested when they are still thin skinned and mild in flavor. Spring onions can be yellow, red, or white. Enjoy them raw and savor their juicy fresh, slightly assertive taste or cook them and marvel at how sweet and tender they become in a creamy soup or when roasted with salmon.
The tiniest and most delicate member of the onion family, chives are easy to cultivate and grow from spring through autumn. Allium schoenoprasum is found with herbs in the produce section of the grocery store and often used with eggs and in creamy sauces. Snip the long, thin, hollow stems of chives to use as a garnish for both their bold green look and their discreet onion flavor. You can also use the chive blossoms—their pretty blooms adorn this lovely appetizer of Goat-Cheese Eggs.
Less pungent in flavor than the familiar mature bulbs of garlic, also known as Allium sativum, that are found in the grocery store year round, fresh garlic is young garlic that has just split into individual paper-wrapped cloves. It's more vibrant in flavor and much juicier than mature garlic, which has been cured by drying for several weeks to help it last. Green garlic is an even younger form of garlic that is used in its entirety, as scallions are. Green garlic is available in spring and fresh garlic during the summer. Try them together in Chilled Garlic and Spinach Soup.
Meaning "little onions" in Italian, cipollinis are small in size but big in taste. They come in red and white varieties, both of which are deliciously sweet. When roasted whole, they melt in your mouth. The season for cipollini is fall, but they're available year-round in some grocery stores. Try them in this recipe as a delicious accompaniment to ham or use them as an antipasti in this agrodolce recipe which emphasizes their sweetness and flavor.
Allium porrum or leeks are an elegant and delicately flavored cousin of the onion. They have straight, white stems and longer, tougher greens. Wash them carefully since soil often gets caught between the leeks many layers, then use them as a vegetable side dish or in soups and stews. Leeks are available year-round in grocery stores but their true season is the spring.