Onions and Garlic
Favorite flavor enhancers, onions, garlic, scallions, and leeks—members of the alliaceae family—have universal appeal and have found their way into the global cookpot—from Europe to Asia to Latin America and the United States. Some gardeners use these plants as ornamentals, but the good cook knows: when added to almost any savory dish, onions, garlic, and leeks make flavors sing.
Besides adding flavor, onions, and particularly garlic, have long been touted as beneficial for your health, and their purported medicinal uses— such as reducing blood pressure, working as an antibiotic, fighting certain cancers, and cleansing the arteries, for example—date back to centuries before the Christian Era.
Today, some people suggest garlic as a supplement to reduce cholesterol and clear clogged arteries, and recent research at the National Academy of Sciences shows that garlic-rich diets may protect against various cancers and heart disease.
Rich in chromium and vitamin C, onions also reportedly yield health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, reducing high blood pressure, and mitigating the pain of arthritis. Also, the cancer-fighting phytonutrients, such as the antioxidant quercitin found in onions, may aid in fighting colon, breast, and ovarian cancers, among others.
Onions come in many sizes and shapes, ranging from the small, white pearl onions to the round, red onions to the slightly flattened, golden-skinned Vidalia and the smaller Italian cippolini. These onions are “cured” so that the skin turns papery, protecting the onion interior from decay; these must be stored in cool, dry places, not in the refrigerator.
The other stalk-like onions—leeks and scallions, for example—are always fresh, with white bulbs and long, green, leaves furled lengthwise; these fresh onions should be plastic-wrapped and refrigerated. For more information, visit Fruits and Veggies Matter.
If you are among the many who cry when slicing onions, numerous folk remedies abound, and it’s anyone’s guess about which method really works. But you can try several of these tricks: partially freeze or chill the onions before slicing them; slice the onions under running water; wear glasses or goggles; breathe through your mouth, not your nose; and use a very sharp knife, slicing off the root end first where the chemicals are concentrated.
Fresh heads of garlic are readily available in supermarkets, and for added convenience, many manufacturers now sell prepeeled garlic cloves, chopped garlic packed in oil, garlic pastes, garlic salt, and dried garlic flakes. But for the best flavors, it’s hard to pass up the fresh heads in their papery coverings.
Be sure to select heads that are firm without any soft spots or green sprouts, both signs of garlic going bad. At home, store garlic in a cool, dry place, discarding any cloves that are beginning to soften. To cook with garlic, separate the cloves from the head pressing down on the whole head with your hand or with the flat side of a cleaver or other broad knife. Then peel the papery skins off each clove, and crush or mince the garlic as desired.