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Onions and Some Relatives

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Vegetables and Vegetarian Foods

Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 18 to 21

Onions are in the Allium family and botanically called Allium cepa. They are related to garlic, shallots, and leeks, among other items. Already discussed in Volume 23(2) on pages 16 - 19 and 24, they can be biennials or perennials, most harvested in the Fall. If they are left in the ground, they will grow bigger and better the following spring.

They are bulbs bred and grown in China for some seven thousand years. The Chinese call them yang cong meaning ‘foreign’ even though they have been around that long. Some call them ‘jade onions’ no matter their color, size, or variety. All varieties are popular in the Chinese culinary if consumed for health as medicinals or as vegetables.

Green onion tops are erroneously called their stalks. They die back in Fall and reappear the following spring, if left in the ground and not removed. They were first described in the western world in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus. Their red cousins share the same tan exterior as do white ones and all in this family, no matter the color of their flesh, are eighty-nine percent water, four percent sugar, one percent protein, and two percent fiber.

For those with pets, we recommend not letting them in house or garden because if cats or dogs ingest them, they can get sick because too much or too many can be toxic for them. On the positive side, they can repel moths and prevent small insect bites if made into a poultice for the skin. They have been used as such and in other medicinal ways for almost as long as they have been around thanks to their cinnanic acid, caffeine, asafoetida, volatile oils, and other stomach-bothering constituents.

Chinese TCM practitioners say they have a warm, sweet yet pungent nature and can positively impact liver and lung channels. They are not always nice when slicing or dicing as they can bring tears to the eyes. Do that task under cold running water to reduce their tearing impact.

The Chinese use onions to treat high blood pressure, relieve constipation, reduce skin ulcers, treat wounds, stop vaginal itching, and reduce other irritations. In the kitchen, use them in major and minor dishes where they are always appreciated.

Shallots, relatives of onions, often grow in bunches, have tan exteriors as do onions, and can be white or red within. Their bunches are almost always called clusters, their bulbs a type of Allium cepe that is different from their brethren. Many originated in Central Asia, others in China, and they are preferred when fried and crisp. They can be purchased that way. Chinese cook them at least until they wilt though they prefer them crisp, and they do like to mix them with other ingredients.

In China, the word for shallots varies by region. It can be yang cong, jiu cong, or qing cong; onions are most often called yang cong. The recipes that follow when cooking them, substituting one for the other is common and acceptable. Our Chinese friends tell us they rarely do that but we often do, particularly when one is unavailable.

Reasons differ, but these friends tell us they do respect taste and their textural differences. They sense these changes but this does not bother many of them. If it bothers you, simply do not do that. We suggest you do as you like for all these bulbs.

Leeks are also related, and botanically called Allium ampeloprasom. In the past, they were called kurrats. They are the mildest members of this family, and even though they are, Buddhist monks do not eat them because they believe they raise their sexual energies. Actually, they do not eat any allium bulb for this reason.

This family member is the tallest and most layered among them. They also hold the most dirt and sand in their green tops so do wash them carefully. Often sold in bunches though they do not grow that way, we use leeks very carefully rinsed to get rid of all dirt or sand in their interiors. Sometimes, we cut them in half the long way and then rinse them.

Scallions are white in their lower part which is less than half way up, green in their upper parts, as are leeks. When planted and after sprouting, most growers pile up the soil around their bottom part trying to keep most of this section white; the more white the better. Some users do discard the green part and only use the white part as this is more tender and has a different taste. Those that do, like them with as much white as possible, while those that use the green tops do want them as tall and as tender as possible.

The Chinese and others who discard the green tops do save them if they plan to use them in soups and long-long-cooked dishes. We consider that a waste, add them to salads and other dishes and never throw them out. We find uses for them, we do cook the green part separately and longer. We love scallions and leeks and are careful to cook their whites for a short time, the green parts for more time than most recipes do.

With long cooking, leeks retain their shape and texture better than scallions do. And we know that leeks are the mildest in this family. We like them and cook either one only for a little time so they have good texture. We know that many folk have no or less trouble digesting and tolerating them.

Overall, do enjoy the entire family and do make all the recipes below and those found in other places, too. We use any family member in any dish, be they stews or stir-fried ones.

Leek Omelettes

4 leeks, cut in half the long way, rinsed of all sand, then angle-cut in thin slivers
5 eggs, beaten well
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon Chinese sesame oil


1. Set aside one tablespoon of the green slivered leeks, and rest the rest of the leek pieces with the eggs.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add both oils and when hot, add the egg mixture, and stir just until it starts to set.
3. Then turn over the almost set leek-egg mixture and allow it to start to set on the other side.
4. Remove this to a cutting board and cut it this omelette into eight wedges.
5. Serve them on a pre-heated platter and do garnish them with the set aside pieces of green leeks.

Goat and Onion Soup

½ pound goat fillet, sliced thin, then cut into one-inch long pieces
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine
2 teaspoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon each, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions
½ fresh chili pepper seeded and slivered
2 peeled onions, one red and one white, cut in large pieces top to bottom
½ cup fresh coriander leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
6 to 8 cups boiling chicken broth
1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar


1. Mix goat meat, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil with the salt, pepper, and cornstarch, and marinate it in this for half an hour before draining and drying the meat with paper towels. Reserve the marinade refrigerated for another use. It will stay refrigerated for several days.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and stir-fry the drained marinated meat for two minutes, then add the chili pepper and leeks and stir-fry for another minute until the meat is no longer pink.
3. Remove the meat from the wok or pan and continue to fry the leeks for another two to three minutes.
4. Then, put al these cooked foods in a pre-heated soup tureen with the coriander, the boiling chicken broth, goat meat, and vinegar, and mix well., then serve in a preheated tureen or individual soup bowls.

Lamb, Leek and Other Greens

1 pound lamb fillet, sliced thin
2 teaspoons each, dark soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil
½ teaspoon each, coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 fresh chili peppers, some hot some not
5 peeled and crushed fresh garlic cloves
1 leek, angle sliced
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, coarsely chopped


1. Mix meat, soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. Then add salt and pepper and cornstarch and marinate for half an hour. Then drain and dry the meat with paper towels.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the drained marinated meat for two minutes, then add the chili peppers and garlic and stir for another minute.
3. Put this in a pre-heated serving bowl, sprinkle the coriander leaves on top, and serve.

Spareribs and Caramelized Ginger

3 to four pounds spare ribs, chopped in individual one-inch pieces
2 cups vegetable oil, reserving one tablespoon to oil a serving platter
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
3 leeks, washed well, and thinly angle sliced
½ cup Ginger liqueur
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce, one dark, the other thin
1 teaspoon salt


1. Blanch the spare ribs for two minutes in boiling water, then quickly rinse them in cool water.
2. Heat the oil in a soup pot and deep-fry half the spare ribs until crisp, about four minutes, then drain them on paper towels and fry the second batch of ribs for the same amount of time. Then drain them the same way, reserving the oil.
3. Rinse the pot, add two tablespoons of the oil to it, an add all the ribs and stir-fry them for three minutes, then add the ginger and the leeks, and stir- fry this for two minutes before adding the liqueur, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, and salt.
4. Stir over a hot burner until the sauce thickens and is like syrup, then put this in a pre-heated bowl and serve promptly.

Pork Ribs With Scallops

5 dried scallops, boiled for one hour, then drained and cooled, then tear them into very thin strips
1 pound boneless pork ribs cut in one-inch pieces
½ pound daikon, peeled and diced or very thinly sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced, then each slice smashed, and then diced
1 Tablespoon goji berries
5 scallions, angle sliced


1. Put pork ribs into one quart of boiling water and simmer for one hour, then remove and set them aside.
2. Strain the liquid of all solids, rinse the pot, and return the ribs and the strained liquid to it.
3. Add the rest of the solid ingredients but not the goji berries and the scallions adding half cup of water and bring this to the boil and reduce the heat and simmer for twenty minutes.
4. Now, add the goji berries and simmer for five minutes more.
5. Serve in individual pre-heated soup bowls tossing in half the scallions and then adding the rest of them as garnish.

Shallot-Flavored Corn and Chick Peas

6 shallots, peeled, minced, and deep-fried crisp
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 scallion top, green part only, minced
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 salted duck egg yolks, steamed for ten minutes, then mashed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup canned corn kernels
1 cup canned chick peas
1 cup vegetable oil


1. Mix the shallots, ground Sichuan peppercorns, sugar, and scallion pieces, then add the cornstarch and the mashed duck egg yolks and salt and mix them into the corn and chick peas.
2. Add one tablespoon of cold water and mix well..
3. Heat wok or deep fry-pan, then add the corn and chick pea mixture and let this fry for one to two minutes watching it carefully as it will foam up. Then use a slotted spoon and remove all from the oil, draining it on paper towels. Now allow it to cool on a clean dry plate..
4. When cool, put this in a bowl and serve as a snack or put it in on paper-towel-lined container until ready to serve it. It can stay one or two days in the refrigerator or in a cool place.

Chicken, Leek, Scallions, and Noodles

1 pound wide Chinese wheat or rice noodles, cooked in salted water until just tender, drained, rinsed, and chilled in cold water
3 Tablespoons sesame oil, divided
2 roasted chicken breasts, skin and bones removed, meat shredded in thin strips
½ onion, in small pieces
½ leek, white part only
10 scallions, sliced on an angle, long and thin
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and sliced
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bunch Chinese parsley, rinsed and chopped
2 chili peppers, seeded and chopped
1 pound snow peas, strings removed, and angle sliced one-half-inch wide
½ cup thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 Tablespoons cold tea
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar


1. Rinse the noodles in hot water, then drain them and mix them with half the sesame oil.
2 Heat a wok or fry pan, add the vegetable oil and fry the onions, garlic, and scallions until all are soft.
3.Next add the shredded chicken pieces, the Chinese parsley, chili pepper and snow pea pieces, and stir-fry for one minute mixing this well.
4. Make a dressing mixing the thin soy sauce, peanut butter, cold tea, rice vinegar, sugar, and the other half of the sesame oil, and mix this into the vegetables in the wok.
5. Put the noodles and all the other ingredients including the vegetables in a large pre-heated serving bowl. Add the remaining sesame oil, and stir well. Serve hot or warm.

Mandarin Fish Stew

2 pounds firm white-fleshed fish, skinless and boneless, cut into two-inch pieces
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Siracha sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium zucchini, angle-cut
2 stalks celery, angle-cut
1 large carrot, peeled and angle-cut
1 onion, cut in large wedges
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled cut in halves, then smashed
1 knob fresh ginger, peeled, thick-sliced, then each slice smashed
4 shallots, peeled and angle-slivered
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil


1. Mix fish pieces with the brown sugar, Siracha sauce, and vegetable oil, and all other ingredients and set aside for ten minutes.
2. Next, heat a wok or fry pan, and fry the fish mixture until light brown, then add the vegetables and stir-fry three minutes before remove everything to a preheated bowl, and then serve it.

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