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A Home Cook’s Guide to 6 Different Onions (And How to Use Them)

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Even though they make us tear up in the kitchen, we here at One Green Planet have a serious culinary love affair with the humble onion. Not only are onions an indispensable ingredient to a variety of cuisines and cookery styles — where would the French be without the mirepoix? And can you image Cajun cooking without its Holy Trinity? — but the pungent, versatile vegetable can be consumed raw, cooked, caramelized, and more, depending on what variety you’re dealing with.

Below, we’ve listed out six different onions you’re likely to come across in your plant-based cooking and detailed how to use them all. But before that…

How to Buy a Bulb Onion

Here are some quick tips on how to shop for a bulb onion. When selecting your onion, make sure it is firm for its size, and then sniff it — if your onion has little-to-no odor, it’s good. Make sure to pass over bulbs with bruises, blemishes, and cuts.

1. Yellow Onions

Did you know that 87 percent of the United States’ bulbous onion crop is devoted to yellow onion production? That’s because yellow onions are practically ever-present in American cooking, due to their versatility and relatively long shelf-life — in fact, if you’re following a recipe that calls for an onion, you can almost always assume the recipe is referring to a yellow onion (and if it isn’t, it will specify).

Yellow onions have a papery, golden skin and range from ivory to light-yellow in color, and can be consumed raw, baked, roasted, caramelized, sautéed, or slightly cooked. They’re available year-round and should be stored in a cool, dark place with plenty of air for up to one week in the refrigerator.

Use yellow onions in this recipe for French Onion Soup, or cut them up into rings and enjoy this recipe for vegan Beer Battered Onion Rings, pictured above. Don’t miss this recipe for Focaccia With Roma Tomatoes and Onions, either.

2. Shallots

tumsubin/Shutterstock

Shallots are thinly fleshed, small onions that appear in a variety of different cuisines. Shallots behave similarly to garlic, in that their bulbs are also made of a cluster of lobes; however, Western shallots have pink-orange and papery skin and a light violet flesh, while Asian shallots tend to be even smaller, and a deep purple color.

Because shallots are so small, they’re easy to mince and then use in dressings and vinaigrettes, like in this recipe for Kale, Purple Cabbage, and Carrot Slaw With Tangy Shallot Vinaigrette. We love caramelizing them, like in this recipe for Caramelized Shallot and Portobello Open-Faced Sandwich. Make sure to check out our Ode to the Shallot: Five Great Ways to Use This Incredible Food in the Kitchen.

3. Scallions

Sea Wave/Shutterstock

While they may look similar, scallions and leeks are very different onions. Scallions are long and thin spring onions, which are dark green and hollow at the top, and have bulbous white bottoms. Scallions are extremely mild but are crunchy and almost juicy — especially the white portion. Often used as garnishes in soups and salads, they can be consumed both raw and cooked, and are usually sold in large bunches.

Try scallions in this recipe for Roasted Carrot Salad With Charred Scallion, or incorporate them into a batter for a savory treat, like with these Scallion Pancakes With Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce.

4. Leeks

Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Leeks are essentially the scallion’s wintertime and overgrown counterparts. You’ll find them year-round, although they’re in season from late fall to early spring. Hint: make sure to wash your leeks before cooking with them, as dirt and grittiness tend to cling to their stalks.

Leeks are mild and have a pronounced sweetness; while their woody, deeply green stalks are great to use in soups and stocks, their white roots are too sweet to eat raw but transform into a melty, sweet base once cooked. Try leeks out in this vegan Cheesy Leek Soup, or toss them in with some other veggies to make a Leek and Kale Tart With Sweet Potato Crust.

5. Red Onion

Alina Kholopova/Shutterstock

Red onions are spicy, pungent, and crisp, and can be eaten raw, grilled, or roasted — that’s why you so commonly see them used as a topping for burgers, as a crunchy element to guacamole, or thrown into a salad for color and flavor. You can’t miss them at the grocery store — typically stored next to the yellow and sweet onions, red onions have a vibrant papery dark red skin and are a mixed shade of white-maroon inside.

Bake red onions into delicious and warm Red Onion Focaccia, pickle your red onions to make them extra tangy and sweet and toss them into this recipe for Jackfruit Carnitas With Pickled Red Onions, or treat yourself to a Sweet Potato and Red Onion Falafel.

6. Ramps

JeffHeuer/Flickr

Ramps are in season for a short time in spring and have one or two delicate, smooth, wide, light green leaves, and a dark purple color on the bottom of the stems. They look similar to scallions, smell like garlic, and taste like a cross between onions and garlic.

This Ramp and Spinach Pesto is the perfect way to use ramp’s bold, unique flavor, and seamlessly blend it with some more traditional pesto ingredients, while this recipe for  Poppy Seed Ramp Dressing calls for ramps, your favorite oil, radishes for crunch, cashews for a creamy consistency, balsamic vinegar for punch, and nutritional yeast. Maybe sure to also read up on 5 Ways to Do Ramps Right This Year.

Check out These 6 Crunchy, Savory Onion Ring Recipes if you’re in the mood for more deep-fried onion goodness.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!

Lead image source: ORLIO/Shutterstock

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