Onions come in a range of shapes and sizes. What unites them, is their ability to add instant flavour to a dish. Sautéed until translucent, or simply diced up and thrown in raw, there’s no mistaking the delightful punch of an onion. You might ask: what’s the point of having so many onions? Aren’t they interchangeable? That’s what we’re here to explore today. Here are six varieties of onion you can cook with, as well as the techniques and dishes they were tailor made for.
You can never go wrong with a yellow onion; they’re a versatile ingredient, and a welcome addition to just about any dish. Unless a recipe specifies a type of onion, defaulting to yellow is a safe bet. They’re delicious when baked, grilled, or eaten raw. Where they truly shine however, is caramelization. Yellow onions hold up well to the low and slow method, and have plenty of natural sugars to brown in the process. By the end, you’ll have a heap of jammy goodness to enjoy.
Sweet onions like Vidalia are characterized by their high sugar content, which lends them a mild, yet sweet flavor. To boot, they’re more robust than the average onion, making them well-suited for high heat cooking. If you’re roasting a tray of vegetables, you won’t regret adding some sweet onion to the mix. Better yet, batter some slices and fry them golden brown, and you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal onion rings – crispy on the outside, and sweet on the inside.
These red-hued onions are a staple ingredient in Mexican and Indian cooking. Like any other onion, they taste wonderful when cooked through. That said, they’re arguably better when eaten raw. As a component of guacamole, or an ingredient in a Greek salad, they lend some bite to the dish without being overpowering. On the flip-side, if you’re craving some intensity, there’s always the option of pickling them; the resulting pink morsels can add some serious punch to whatever you put them on.
With white onions, potency is the name of the game. They’re remarkably crunchy, with a sharp flavour and faint aftertaste. In other words, their taste is quite strong, but doesn’t linger on the tongue. As such, white onions work best in zesty dishes like chutneys and salsas, where they can deliver a punch up front. Moreover, they’re an excellent addition to stir fries; their sharpness provides a lovely counterbalance to sauces both sweet and salty.
Many know this allium as the midpoint between onions and garlic. In truth, shallots are not as potent as either; on the contrary, they’re quite mild. It’s for this reason that shallots are commonly used in sauces and vinaigrettes, where their subtle flavour can enhance a dish without overwhelming it. They can be used in dishes themselves, too, particularly when delicate ingredients like eggs or vegetables are involved.
Also known as green onions, scallions are as mellow as onions come. Whether they’re incorporated into a dish during cooking, or sprinkled atop after the fact, they contribute a hint of classic onion-y flavour. Many Asian and Mexican dishes call for scallions. Don’t limit your use of them to said dishes, though; scallions can enhance a plethora of savoury offerings, from scrambled eggs to mashed potatoes. Anywhere an onion would be welcome, scallions will do the trick, and without the risk of coming on too strong.