Isn’t it really annoying when a recipe calls for shallots and you wonder if it’s okay to use a Spanish onion instead! Well an onion is an onion and they are going to cook more or less similarly, but using the right kind in the right recipe, the right way, can make a big difference in taste and texture. For example you’ll never get a classic like French onion soup with shallots! There are probably as many varieties as there are layers in an onion, but we list the ones you certainly must know about!
Cipollini onions – These onions pronounced as chip-o-lee-ni, hail from Italy, are golf ball sized, flat (almost like a flying saucer) and sweeter than a conventional onion. Their high sugar content makes them perfect in a recipe that calls for caramelized onions. Roast them whole, in a pan along with some butter or in an oven with some herbs, these little onions become melt in your mouth and more delicious than ever. The only possible flipside to cipollini onions could be peeling off the thin papery white skin, but that’s totally worth it too! An easy way is to blanch and peel of the skin with your fingers. Make sure you buy these if you happen to come across them in gourmet supermarkets as they aren’t easily available locally.
Green Onions or Scallions – These tender onions are picked when they are still young, the shoots are tender and the bulbs haven’t still developed completely. This gives them their elongated shape and mild flavour. Chop the leaves finely or on a bias to add to salads or as a topping. Used extensively in Asian cuisine, scallions barely require any cooking time. Fry finely chopped scallions, garlic and fresh chillies in butter and add 2 spoons of vinegar, 1 spoon of soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and a teaspoon of water to make a quick and easy dipping sauce!
Pearl Onions – Probably called pearl onions because they do look like the little gems. These onions are white in colour and sweet to taste. Mostly used in pickling, in cocktails and as garnish, you can add these whole in stews and bakes. Pickle these in some vinegar, salt and garlic for an all-time hit accompaniment. The contrast from the natural sweetness of the onions and the tartness from the marinating liquid create one magical burst of flavour! You can also skewer these onions whole when making tandoori grills!
Shallots – These are what our very own sambar onions are also known as! Shallots are sweeter versions of onions that grow just like pods of garlic and taste like sweet milder onions! They are tenderer and have a less intense flavour and sharpness than a regular Spanish onion. You can use these in any way that you like, chop and use in sabzis, soups and stir-fries or use whole to make a delicious South Indian Lentil curry known as a Vengaya Sambar !
Red Onion – Red onions are the onions that we typically use in India. Also known as Bermuda onions these contain very less amount of sugar in them as compared to others from the family. These are great for grilling because of their sharp and acidic taste. These are added to salads raw for the crunch and lovely colour they provide. Use these finely chopped in a spicy tangy onion and tomato chutney.
Leeks - It is possible to confuse leeks with spring onions at site, but you will notice the difference in taste and texture almost instantly in a recipe. Leeks are fibrous when raw, but get a luscious softness to them once cooked. A very common feature in flavoring stocks and stews, use leeks in this recipe for a leek and pine nut pickle to experience it in a brand new avatar.
Spanish Onions/ white onions – These are the big popular guys in the onion family. Large in size with multiple cooking uses Spanish onions come in white, red and yellow colours. The mild sweetness and perfect body makes it a fabulous to fry, roast, sauté, and bake and even eat raw! Easily available and with a shelf life of more than a couple of weeks, Spanish onions are a clear favourite! These large white onions are also the make perfect batter fried onion rings!
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Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.