They’re strong, they’re stinky, and they’ve infiltrated all of your favorite savory dishes.
Meet the Alliums: otherwise known as the “onion genus,” this family contains some of the most powerful ingredients, both flavor- and health-wise, that you’ll find in your kitchen, your local farmer’s market, or the peaceful aisles of your grocery store.
The Allium family is marked by two characteristics: a bulbous body and the presence of sulphur. This sulphur is what gives Allium members that distinct onion/garlicky flavor and odor, although the intensity (the “sulphurousness”, if you will) varies between members. Hundreds of different plant species fall under the Allium heading, from ramps to black garlic, and the subtly different flavor profile of each member makes this family a foodie’s dream. But Alliums are more than just punchy flavor; they’re lauded for their amazing health benefits, too. While health benefits for each individual type of bulb vary slightly, they more or less all fight for the same righteous causes: reducing risk for breast and colon cancers, powerfully antioxidant, lowering bad cholesterol, and preventing heart disease.
When adding Alliums to your dishes, cook them lightly to maintain maximum antioxidant benefits. Of course, I’m not one to turn down a pan of onions caramelized over low heat for 40+ minutes…
Want to break away from the onion-garlic dichotomy? Look for some of the lesser-known members of the Allium family at the next farmer’s market. You might smell them before you see them. Some of these include:
Chives: these delicate greens look like bunches of thick grass, and have a milder flavor than onions or garlic. They’re perfect sprinkled over baked potatoes or folded into scrambled eggs.
Ramps: I raved about these foodie-friendly, super-flavorful wild onions here. Recipe included!
Garlic scapes: very young garlic, or “green garlic,” produces a curly green shoot called a “scape” that’s available at farmer’s markets around June. The flavor is like a milder, springier incarnation of garlic.
Shallots: I’ve often seen shallots’ flavor compared to a cross between garlic and an onion. To me, cooked shallots are sweeter and subtler than both–when roasted, they’re practically dessert. Raw shallots, like the other larger members of the Allium family, are still pretty intense.
Leeks: although they look like large green onions, leeks have their own fabulous identity. They’re one of the mildest Allium members, and add a sweet, earthy flavor to dishes when sauteed (like yesterday’s Crunchy, Warm Spring Salad).
photo attribute: flickr.com