Onions and Garlic

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With onions, the first thing to come to most people’s minds are those yellow globes nearly everyone has in the kitchen. But the Allium family also includes shallots, welsh onions or scallions, leeks, garlic, potato onions and topsetting or tree onions. There’s an old, old joke about the stereotypical Jewish grandmother who was teaching her granddaughter to bake a cake. Grandma’s first instruction was, “First slice up and cook an onion.” When the granddaughter wanted to know why, Grandma said, “So the house should smell good.”

Cooking Onions

Onions do smell good when cooking, even if they can irritate the eyes when you cut them up. Cutting releases compounds that combine in a gas which causes tears. Some onions are more pungent than others – sweet onions are usually less irritating to the eyes. You can try slicing them under water, breathe through your mouth or put a fan in the kitchen. The root end has more of those compounds, so you could try cutting it last or just tuck it in the freezer for soup stock. It’s those same compounds, however, that contain immune system boosters, so you might be better off eating an onion a day than an apple a day.

Onions concentrate nutrients near the outside. Always use those papery outer skins in soup stock to get maximum nutritional benefits. When I peel an onion, I slice off the top and root end – these go to the chickens. Then I peel the papery outer layer and any drier inner layers. These go in a ziplock bag in the freezer. The next time I make a soup broth, all the onion skins go straight into the broth from the freezer; I strain them out when the broth is finished.

Growing Onions

When you’re growing bulbing onions, you have to consider day length during the summer. Different varieties will begin to bulb according to whether they are short-day, intermediate, long-day or day-length neutral onions. Short-day onions do best in the south and long-day onions do best in the north. Day-length-neutral or intermediate onions can be grown pretty much anywhere. As onions bulb, by the way, they push out of the ground; that’s normal, so don’t cover them up with more soil. More water generally means sweeter onions, but don’t get carried away or they may rot. Better to mulch well than to overwater. Onions should dry for a while after they’re harvested to prevent rot. Always handle onions gently when harvesting, as they may rot if bruised. In case you haven’t guessed by now, onions tend to be susceptible to rot.

You can grow onions from seeds or sets – onions that have been grown in very crowded conditions and look like they belong in a Barbie doll kitchen. Onions grown from seed usually keep better, but they do take a lot longer to grow to maturity. If you grow potato (multiplier) onions, you can just leave a few in the ground and they’ll increase the way any bulbing plant will. Topsetting onions bend over at the top and root where they touch the ground, starting new plants. Treat shallots and leeks as you do other types of onions.

In my garden, onions do better if fall-planted (seeds or sets) and allowed to overwinter. Allium seed doesn’t usually last more than a year, so I like to fall plant, let some go to seed and plant that seed the next fall. Since onions are biennial, if you plant in spring, you may not get a good seed crop. It’s hard to plant them in spring and keep them growing through the summer, as they want to form bulbs and dry up. However, if you leave some of those bulbs in the ground through the winter, they will often develop several smaller bulbs (think daffodils) and then go to seed the next spring. You can divide and replant the smaller bulbs instead of sets, but results vary; you’ll get a more uniform crop from seeds. Welsh onions (scallions) are perennial and don’t form bulbs, but multiply in the same way iris and daffodils do.

Growing Garlic

Garlic comes in two forms: hardneck and softneck. These descriptive terms refer to the stalk (or lack of it). A hardneck garlic literally has a thick hard stalk in the center that is rigid at maturity. Softneck stalks aren’t really stalks at all but a compact layer of leaves that remains flexible and lends itself to braiding. Hardnecks are the type preferred by many gourmet cooks as they have more complex flavors and because they often have more “bite.” They also tend to form several large cloves, while softneck has more but smaller cloves. The softneck garlics tend to appeal to a wider range of diners because they are milder.

Some hardneck varieties are striped or tinged in red or purple – the various types include purple striped, marble purple striped, Asiatic, glazed purple striped, Creole, Middle Eastern, turban, rocambole and porcelain. Softnecks are grouped into blanco/Paicenza, California early and late, Corsican red, Inchelium red, silver rose, silver white and French red varieties. Purple striped and rocambole types are the hardiest and best for those in really cold climates, while porcelain and softneck varieties do better in hot areas. Hardneck varieties form a scape – the early developmental stage of the hard neck, which will turn into a flower stalk. These are edible and typically harvested for pesto or chopped and frozen for later use.

Garlic can be spring or fall-planted. Fall-planted garlic does store better, but it also tends to dry out in storage and the flavors often change. I like to plant some in both seasons. That way I have nice, juicy garlic pretty much year round.

Storing Onions and Garlic

Whole dry onions store best in pantyhose. Drop an onion into the toe, tie a knot above it, drop another onion in, etc. Hang from a beam in a relatively warm (you don’t want them to freeze, but they don’t have to be kept toasty), dry place. When you want an onion, cut a hole in the bottom of the pantyhose. After that, untie the knot for the next one. You can either save the pantyhose for a similar procedure next year or cut into ties for staking tomatoes in the garden.

Garlic cloves should be stored whole, kept in the dark and as dry as possible. A garlic braid is an excellent and picturesque way to store garlic. However, you can’t braid hardneck garlic the way you can softneck; I store mine in single-layer trays. Softneck garlic will usually store at least six months and possibly up to a year, while hardnecks are only good for three to six months. You can also peel cloves and store them in oil. If you do, figure two to three weeks in the fridge or about four months in the freezer. You can also store minced garlic in the freezer for up to six months. And garlic can be fermented – nice for a change of taste. Fermenting mellows the typical garlic bite, just as it does with onions. Given that you’re typically going to use only a few cloves, I don’t think it’s worth the bother to do anything but store it as dry whole bulbs.

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Radish Recipes

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Roasted Radishes

Trim the top and stem ends off of a pound of radishes, then slice them in half. Toss them with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Arrange them cut-side-down on a heavy, dark sheet pan (a cast iron skillet is also good) and roast at 450°F for about 10 to 12 minutes. remove when their white faces have browned a little, but they’re still firm inside. Sprinkle with a little more salt, a finely chopped garlic clove, and some minced parsley. Eat and enjoy; they’re best when they’re piping-hot.

Creamed Radishes

Wash a pound of radishes, trim tops and stem ends. Slice smaller radishes in half, larger radishes in quarters. Cook in coconut oil until they start to brown. Drizzle with enough cream to just cover the bottom of the pan. Peel and press a couple of cloves of garlic and add to the pan. Stir gently for a few minutes and serve.

Honey-Glazed Radishes

  • 1 pound medium radishes, trimmed and halved
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic or cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons toasted poppy, sesame and/or sunflower seeds, divided

Combine radishes, water, butter, honey, vinegar, garlic and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until the radishes are tender and the liquid has reduced to a syrupy glaze, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir 2 tablespoons seeds into the radishes. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon seeds.

Black Radish and Yukon Gold Gratin

  • 4 medium Yukon Gold or other potatoes
  • 2-3 Black Radishes
  • 1/2 cup of cream
  • 1 tbs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of panko or other unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan
  • Chives for snipping
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butter and oil to cook potatoes and radishes

Heat oven to 400 °F. Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/4 inch rounds. Leave the skin on the radish; wash and slice off the ends then slice them in 1/4 inch rounds as well. Place a large skillet on medium-low heat and add oil then butter to the pan and toss in your radish slices and cook until tender yet firm. The sugars in the radish tend to burn quickly so turn them and keep an eye on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Repeat the process with the potatoes adding more oil and butter if necessary. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and pepper, when they are firm yet tender add the cream, parsley and return the radish slices to the mix. Simmer for a couple of minutes then remove from heat. Add the mixture to ramekins equally and sprinkle with panko and Parmesan. Place in oven for 15 minutes or until cheese and breadcrumbs are browned. You could make these ahead and put them in the oven just before serving. I recommend garnishing with snipped chives and more grated Parmesan.

Radish Gratin

  • 1 lb. daikon radishes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 oz. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Peel radishes, and slice them very thinly (1/16 of an inch if possible) on a mandolin. In a saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then turn off heat and allow to infuse for about 10 minutes. Strain cream into another saucepan, discarding solids. Add sliced radishes and simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove radish slices with a perforated spoon, and layer them in a small casserole. Cover with cream mixture and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbly, and serve with roast leg of lamb, pork or veal chops.

Radishes and New Potatoes

  • 2 cups red radishes
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups small new potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Cut off tops and roots of radishes but do not peel. Scrape new potatoes. Cook separately in boiling salted water till tender. Drain, add butter, lemon juice and parsley, mix and serve hot.

Carrot and Radish Salad

  • 5 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 2 medium green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium lime, juiced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the lime juice, honey and oil until thoroughly blended. Pour over vegetables, toss gently and sprinkle with herbs. Top with sesame seeds. Add salt and pepper.

Fermented Radishes

  • 4 cups water
  • 2-3 Tbsp. sea salt
  • 2 bunches of radishes
  • Seasoning seeds such as dill, mustard, caraway, etc.

Prepare the brine by completely dissolving salt in 4 cups of water. Wash radishes well and remove tops and tails. Cut small radishes into quarters and larger ones into sixths. Place spices or seasonings in the bottom of a quart jar. Pack radishes on top of seasonings and cover with brine, leaving about 1 inch of headspace. If necessary, weigh radishes down under the brine to keep them submerged. Cover the jar with a tight lid, airlock lid or coffee filter secured with a rubber band. Culture at room temperature (60-70°F is preferred) until desired flavor and texture are achieved. If using a tight lid, burp daily to release excess pressure. Once radishes are finished culturing, put a tight lid on the jar and move to cold storage.

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Radishes

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Radishes have been gracing plates for centuries and are known to have been grown and eaten by humans for at least 2,000 and possibly 5,000 years. This root veggie has a lot going for it. It comes in different shapes: round, cylindrical and carrot-shaped. It also comes in multiple colors: white, red, pink, green, purple, black and bicolors. Flavor varies from a bit of a bite to clear-your-sinuses hot. Although usually seen as a salad vegetable or crudité, radishes can also be cooked. In fact, cooking them is a good way to mellow the ones that bite back when raw. The radish is a good source of folate, fiber, riboflavin and potassium, as well as copper, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese and calcium. It also has vitamin C to offer.

Growing Radishes

You can grow a radish from seed to plate in 21 days. You can also grow them year round, although in the dog days of summer, radishes benefit from plenty of moisture and some shade. Short radishes on water and you’ll regret it (unless you like having your sinuses seared). Some kinds of radishes are meant to be overwintered and store well in the garden. Fodder radishes, a variety of daikon radish, are great for soil building, as they dig deep for soil minerals. Chop them well and add to the compost pile. The roots can get very large and often fork, twist and curl into fantastic shapes; they’re edible for both humans and animals like sheep.

Radish Varieties

  • China Rose – these are shaped like a thick carrot and longer than the usual radish, which means you get more radish in the same space. A pale rose in color with a white inside, they are a fall-winter radish and very good for wintering over. They came to the US in 1859. Mild flavor.
  • Watermelon – also known as the Beauty Heart, Shinrimei, Roseheart and Red Me at. This is a daikon radish, typically green on the outside but white and deep fuchsia pink within. Lovely to look at and although no radish is truly sweet, this one has both a sweetness and a slight peppery taste. Another one that does better in fall. It’s considered an heirloom and originally came from China, but no one seems to know just when.
  • Round Black Spanish – This is a winter storage radish that’s been around since the 1600s. Black skin and white interior. I find this one is best eaten cooked, as it’s quite spicy. There’s a similar and much older version that has a tap root like a carrot.
  • Purple Plum – the skin ranges from lavender to a deep purple, with a white interior. My husband, who loves radishes, says this is one of the best. It is one of the sweeter radishes. Not very old, as it was first released by the Alf Christianson Seed Company in 1985.
  • White Icicle – another hubby-approved radish, this looks like a short white carrot. Quite mild as radishes go. It’s been around since shortly before the American Civil War. Also known as White Naples, White Italian, Long White and White Transparent.

This is another veggie where you don’t need to chose just one. Radishes take up very little space and they mature very quickly. You can interplant them with pretty much anything and have them on your plate before things get crowded.

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