Using and Preserving the Other Alliums

Food Gardening GuideOnions / Harvesting

By National Gardening Association Editors

Scallions or green tops are one of the first vegetables ready for harvest each spring. It's a real pleasure to go into the garden and pull them. Good scallions are young, green and tender and usually have several inches of white skin above the roots. They are either grown from a variety of bulbless onion or they are green tops - thinnings from the entire onion family: garlic, shallots and leeks as well as onions.

Scallions keep a few days if wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator, but they're best if picked the day you use them. To prepare scallions, wash them and cut off the roots. Peel off the outside layer of skin and cut off the top green tail, leaving four- to six-inch scallions. The green tails are good as garnish. They're excellent with sliced tomatoes, on baby boiled potatoes, fish, egg dishes or salads.

Preserving Scallions

To dry scallions, cut them crosswise, tops and all, into 1/8- to 1/4-inch bits. Put the chopped scallions into a cheesecloth bag and blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds. Plunge the bag in cold water, then take it outside and shake it to dry. Put the scallions in a single layer on dehydrator screens, and when thoroughly dry, seal them tightly in containers. When using dried scallions in dips or spreads, let them stand in the mixture for two hours before serving.

To freeze scallions, simply chop them up and put them in small, plastic containers and place them in the freezer. As with onions, use frozen scallions within a month or so for best flavor.


Chives are chopped finely and used as garnish and in spreads, dips and eggs. Their flavor gets stronger the longer they're mixed with cottage cheese or cream cheese, so only combine them at serving time.

To cut chives, use scissors and trim a few of the stalks to a height of one inch rather than cutting the tips of the whole plant. When they grow back to six or seven inches, they're ready to be trimmed again.


The queen of the sauce onions, the shallot imparts a delicate flavor to sauces somewhere between garlic and onion. Shallots should not be browned, as they turn bitter. Three to four shallots are the equivalent of one medium-sized onion; they're rarely eaten alone, but are used regularly in cooking. However, pickled shallots are special. Shallots are cured, dried and stored in the same way as onions.


Leeks are the king of soup onions and are regarded in France as the asparagus of the poor. The patron saint of Wales, Saint David, exhorted his countrymen who were faithful to King Cadwaldr to distinguish themselves from their Saxon foes by wearing a leek in their caps. Even now on Saint David's Day, March 1, Welshmen sport leeks, the emblem of Wales, on their lapels.

To prepare leeks for cooking, trim off the roots, remove any bruised or dried leaves and cut off tops, leaving only the white stem and tender part of the green leaves. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise starting a couple of inches below the top of the white portion, and continuing right through the remaining green portion. Spread the layers slightly and wash the leeks very carefully, flushing water down into the white part to remove dirt that accumulated as the leeks grew. Then slice the leeks as directed by your recipe.

Removing the Aroma

If the smell of onions on your hands bothers you after you've been cooking with them, try rubbing your hands with a few drops of lemon juice, vinegar or a little salt. If you want to clear your breath, eat some mint, a sprig of parsley or a few celery leaves. If the smell of cooking onions bothers you, light a few wooden matches. The sulfur on the matches will take the odor away.

Peeling Onions

If you're like most people, you've probably noticed that peeling and chopping onions is the quickest way to begin shedding a few tears! The fresher your onions, the more of a workout your tear ducts will get. A few easy tricks can ease or prevent the problem:

  • Breath through your mouth as you peel and slice onions.
  • Peel onions from the stem end, then chop off the root end and immediately rinse the root end of the onion in cold water.
  • Hold the onions under cold water as you peel them.
  • When peeling a lot of small onions, soak them for a few seconds in boiling water, then dunk them in cold water. The skins will then slip off easily.

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Other articles in this series:
1. Harvesting Onions
2. Preserving Onions
3. Using and Preserving the Other Alliums ← you're on this article right now

This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Onions / Harvesting.
Other articles in this series:
1. Harvesting Onions
2. Preserving Onions
3. Using and Preserving the Other Alliums ← you're on this article right now

This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Onions / Harvesting.
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