Celebrating the Allium

 Seasonal Cooking with Rita Calvert~The Local Cook

Consider the onion, the allium. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic. The genus, includes the various edible onions such as garlic, onions, pearl onions, chives, scallions, shallots and leeks. Many of us begin our growing repertoire simply with  scallions and yellow onions. The more adventuresome will also grow shallots, garlic chives, tree onions, everlasting onions and welsh onions (Japanese bunching onions). These aromatics have played a pivotal role in cooking worldwide, as the various parts of the plants, either raw or cooked in many ways, produce a large variety of flavors and textures. In some cases, onions are the focus of many dishes, in others they complete the flavor.

Onions come in different colors, sizes and tastes. There are two types of round onions. One is the large, round type referred to as spring/summer onions, which are grown in warm weather. These are the Maui Sweet onion, Vidalia and Walla Walla. They have a sweet or mild taste.

The other type of onion is referred to as the storage onion. These onions grow in colder climates with a flavor that is more pungent. They are called the red, white or yellow onion. Spanish onions are one form of storage onion.


Great Kids Farm onion field


 Health Benefits of Onions

The Institute for Cancer Research has stated that Allicin, found in onions, is apparently a good cancer-fighter.

The chromium in onions works to improve the cell’s response to insulin. Studies of diabetics show that onions lower insulin levels and improve tolerance for glucose.

The combination of sulfuric compounds, chromium and vitamin B6 in onions work together to lower blood pressure, prevent atherosclerosis and heart disease. Onions help to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks. They also help to lower bad cholesterol and raise good HDL-cholesterol.

 Caramelized Vidalia Onion Tarte Tatin

The Vidalia onion was first grown near Vidalia, Georgia, in the early 1930s. It is an unusually sweet variety of onion, due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil in which the onions are grown. 

Serves 6

 If you’re wanting to try something elegant yet simple, you have to make this! I took it to a party where it got rave reviews although folks had a hard time figuring it out at first. A Tarte Tatin is a dish of French origin which uses apples for the upside-down concoction. Upside down, meaning the apples are caramelized first in butter and sugar. When they are golden, a layer of puff pastry is draped over the top. Now the dessert is baked in the oven until the puff pastry is fluffy and golden. Immediately the warm dish is inverted on to a serving platter. Southern Living Magazine inspired this savory version and how sweet it is. Vidalia onions are in season so go for it!

  • Notes:
  •  Make sure the pastry stays chilled.
  • Try to plan to finish baking and then serve immediately so the pastry stays crisp.
  • 3 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 scant tablespoon sugar 
  • 8 small sweet onions (about 1 1/2 lb.)or 3-4 large Vidalia onions, halved crosswise
  • fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Garnishes: fresh lemon thyme sprigs, freshly ground black pepper

 Preheat oven to 375°. Melt butter in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-low heat; swirl to coat bottom. Sprinkle with sugar.

 Place 12 to 14 onion halves in skillet, cut sides down, with sides touching. Cut remaining onion halves into quarters, and place, cut sides down, in gaps between onions in skillet.

 Cover and cook onions 10 minutes, adding salt and 1 tablespoon water halfway through. Add vinegar; cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are caramelized. If there is a lot of liquid, pour off most of it. Remove from heat.

 Roll pastry sheet into a 12-inch square on a lightly floured surface; spread with the Dijon mustard and cut into a 12-inch round. Place pastry round (with mustard side down-touching the onions over onions in skillet.

 Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven, and using oven mitts, immediately but carefully, invert onto a serving plate.

Fresh Pea Soup with Leeks and Mint

Leeks are just one of many vegetables in the onion family. Cultivated from wild leek , it is closely related to elephant garlic and Kurrat (from Egypt) (all these are Allium ampeloprasum subspecies) and further related to chives and ramsons.

 Growers bury the sets (little plants) deep to blanch as much of the stalk as possible, but all parts of the leek are edible. They are usually about 1 inch in diameter, but can be eaten smaller or larger. They taste like a mild onion and garlic mix. They often have a sharp bite when raw, but are sweet when cooked.

Serves 6

 Mild and sweet, leeks are the perfect allium for this delicate soup with a hint of Asia. Delicious hot or cold. This soup can be made with fresh peas or frozen baby peas,

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil 
  • 1 cup washed leeks (white part only), diced
  • 4 cups shelled green peas (about 4 pounds unshelled)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk (see photo)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • Extra mint sprigs for garnish

 Melt coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks to pan; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add peas, broth, and coconut milk; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 8-10 minutes or until peas are very tender, but still bright green, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; let stand 15 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper and mint leaves.

 Place half of pea mixture in blender; process until smooth. Pour pureed soup mixture into a large bowl. Repeat procedure with remaining pea mixture. Stir in lime juice (to taste), Ladle about 3/4 cup soup mixture into each of 6 bowls;  Sprinkle each serving with a mint sprig and more pepper. Serve rice crackers with the soup.