Nothing to cry over: An onion primer

It’s hard to imagine a kitchen without an onion. I use onions in almost all of my savory dishes. You probably have some yellow or red onions kicking around your kitchen right now!

Onions come in yellow, white, and red and can range in flavor from mild and sweet to quite pungent and sharp. And, of course, we have our green onions (also known as scallions) and our shallots. So many onions in the bin and all of them have their own distinct properties.

Raw red onions give a great bite to a dish and caramelized yellow imparts a wonderful mellow taste to many meals.

Besides being delicious and versatile, onions are quite healthy as well. These bulbous root vegetables have a great nutritional profile.

An onion provides you with a gram of fiber and a bit of Vitamin C, as well as Vitamin B-6, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium. Onions can also reduce your risk of stroke, easing the inflammation that can cause heart disease.

Onions aren’t eaten out of hand, but you may be surprised to realize that you may have eaten a whole onion by the end of the day if you have some in your breakfast omelet and in your lunchtime stir fry, and in your dinner stew. All of those vitamins and nutrients do add up.

At the market, look for onions free of blemishes and heavy for their size. Onions are on the Clean Fifteen list, so if you don’t have the budget for organic onions, the commercially grown ones are ok.

Which onion to use for what:

For best results, always use the onion that’s best suited for the cooking task at hand. Here’s a little primer that you can keep handy until you memorize each onion’s best use:

Red onions. Use raw in salads and salsa or for garnishes, or try cooking on the grill (their color will hold up!).

Yellow onions. Yellow onions add a tang and a sweetness to your cooked dishes. This onion is considered to be the all-purpose onion because it really can be used for almost anything. Most people use yellow onions more than any other variety. Spanish onions are a type of yellow onion that’s a bit sweeter than the average yellow onion.

Vidalia onions. Intensely sweet in flavor, Vidalias can be eaten raw. Cooked, Vidalia onions make excellent onion rings and they’re perfect for caramelizing.

White onions. Sharper in flavor than yellow onions, white onions add a bite to a salsa or chutney recipe. You can also cook them like you would a yellow onion.

Scallions. Scallions are often referred to as green onions. They have a mild flavor perfect for soups, stir-fries, and salads. They are almost always eaten raw or just barely cooked in the case of being added to a soup at the end of its cooking time.

Shallots. Perfect for gravies or sauces, shallots are sweet in flavor, but they are rather bold at the same time. For that reason, they should be cooked nice and long, allowing them to mellow out if you don’t like that two-three onion punch. Shallots are wonderful in braised dishes and in stews.

Cutting an onion

To cut an onion without any tears, peel away the outer layer of papery skin and cut a piece off the end with the twisty stem coming out of it. From there, slice in half and avoid cutting that other end until you absolutely have to. That’s where the eye-watering gases are located. You can watch my YouTube video for a lesson on slicing onions.

Storing onions

Keep red, yellow, and white onions in a cool dry place for up to 2 weeks. Past that, you might notice some mold forming on those beautiful bulbs. Both shallots and green onions will last for a week or so in the crisper drawer of your fridge.

Bonus tip

Caramelizing onions is a wonderful task for the slow cooker. Simply slice 4 or 5 yellow onions and toss them in the slow cooker with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Cook on LOW for 10 hours. You may stir at the mid-way mark if you’re at home while they’re cooking, but that isn’t necessary. When the onions are caramelized (soft and golden brown in color), you can refrigerate or freeze them until needed.

There are so many things you can do with your crock cooker! For some great recipes and meal ideas, check out our Crock Cooker Bundles. We have an awesome assortment!

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