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Thyme for Cooking Alliums: Onions, Garlic, Shallots, Leeks

These 4 alliums are a staple in my larder and one or two are used in most if not every meal. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and have been shown to lower both high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Onions: Onions come in many varieties and colors.  I normally use the common white onion; occasionally the Spanish or red onion.  I can't get the sweet onions available in the U.S.: Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, but do suggest them when appropriate instead of the red onion I use.

Shallots:  Shallots are brown-skinned, smaller than onions, milder and sweeter with just a hint of garlic.  They are easy and quick to grow in the garden and very common in Mediterranean cooking.  They grow in clusters, more similar to garlic than in single bulbs like onions.  They are good both raw and cooked.

Garlic:    Garlic grows in clusters or 'heads'. The individual segment is called a clove. You can find both white and purple.  (Elephant garlic is related but not the same.  It's actually closer to a leek, and quite mild.)

To store:    Store onions, garlic and shallots in open containers with good air circulation.  A cool, dry place is best.  Do not refrigerate and do not store with or near other vegetables, particularly potatoes.  Storing onions and potatoes close to each other will cause both to spoil.

Leeks:     Leeks do not form a bulb but, rather, look like a giant green onion or scallion.  They are milder in flavor than onions and are used both as an added ingredient for seasoning and as a vegetable.  They are normally grown in sandy soil so need to be washed before using.

To Store:   Leeks should be stored in the refrigerator.  You can cut off the majority of the dark green top to make it easier.  

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