Up and Allium!

Ruth and daughter Rachel.
Ruth and daughter Rachel.

Growing and cooking onions makes Ruth Ablett so happy it brings tears to her eyes. Now that the obvious cliché is out of the way…  she can proceed to celebrate this humble vegetable and its many relatives.

The humble onion is so delicious and easy to grow it transcends class. The same cannot be said for most foods!

Members of the allium family are fairly ubiquitous the world over and have been part of the diet of humans for millennia. Due to their simple cultivation, easy propagation, long storage, and tolerance for a wide variety of climates and soil types, they were enjoyed as a popular vegetable throughout history, eaten by the poor and the wealthy alike.

Alliums are high in fibre, low in calories, and are extremely versatile in cuisine. They can be eaten fried, sautéed, caramelised, raw, pickled, or even in desserts*. Often they are out of notice, taking the role of accompaniment so that some other ingredient can be the prima donna.

They often do more for dishes than we give them credit for, imparting their subtly sweet earthy flavor and mildly crunchy texture. They provide body and thickness to curries and soups. Many a hearty winter recipe begins with “Heat oil in a pan over medium-high heat, add onions and garlic and sauté…”

My favourite onion activity is growing them, and my other favourite onion activity is eating them. Not satisfied with the three or four varieties available, I ordered some heirloom seeds from Niche and Koanga Gardens. This year I planned for seven different varieties of alliums.

Back in April I filled some strawberry punnets with soil and stood up toilet rolls in them, sprinkling the seeds in the rolls. Pukekohe longkeeper, Borettana pearl onions, California red, Sweet Walla-Walla, and Hunter River white. I also planted Lyon leeks.

Now that it’s June I’ve just prepared my garlic bed, and I’ll be planting that shortly. It’s that time of the year already!

I grew Sweet Walla-Walla onions in a fish bin when I lived in a place with no garden space, and made them all into the following soup.

Give it a try – it’s amazing.

Cream of Sweet Onion Soup
115g butter
1kg Sweet Walla-Walla onions, peeled and sliced (you can use white or yellow onions instead – the sweeter the better)
1 fresh bay leaf
105mL dry vermouth
1L vegetable stock
150mL cream or milk
A little lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Croutons and snipped chives to garnish

  • Melt 75g butter in a large, heavy pan. Set 200g onions aside, and add the other 800g to the pot. Cook with the bay leaf over very low heat for 30 minutes. Onions should be very soft and tender.
  • Add vermouth, increase heat and boil rapidly. Add stock and salt/pepper to taste. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer five minutes.
  • Leave the soup to cool, and discard the bay leaf. Blend the soup and return to the pan.
  • Heat the remaining 40g butter in another pan and cook the remaining onions, covered, slowly until soft. Uncover and cook gently until golden.
  • Add the cream and reheat the soup gently. Do not boil – it will curdle the cream. Add buttery onions and stir 1-2 minutes.
  • Serve in bowls and sprinkle on toppings.

Enjoy your alliums – I certainly do!

*There is a garlic restaurant I used to frequent. Everything had massive amounts of garlic. They had roasted garlic ice-cream and chocolate-covered garlic cloves for dessert – both incredible. Going there guarantees that everyone will have awful breath afterwards.

Ruth Ablett is a Canadian who has somehow found herself in Hamilton, New Zealand. She tends to obsess over unusual things like onions and storage bins.

A taiko drummer, she can usually be found tapping on something.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

2 thoughts on “Up and Allium!

  • June 25, 2013 at 10:00 am

    The onion: truly a goddess of vegetables!

    • June 25, 2013 at 10:02 am

      Indeed! Feel free to make the soup for us any time you like, we’ll bring the vermouth!


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