Once in a while, you have a year in the vegetable garden with a ton of success growing onions. But how do you make sure none of your excess onions go to waste?
It seems impossible to say you have too many onions. They are good for so many things. Almost every dish starts with an onion (or any good ones that is). But if you find a great sale at the store or someone gives you a bunch of onions, or you grow a huge crop one year, better than ever, how can you use all you have without waste. For more on how to use excess produce, click here. And check out how to grow Egyptian walking onions here.
What to do with excess onions
Onions will last on the counter for about a month if they have been cured. If you have a root cellar or a cold garage, they will last longer, possibly even until your next crop grows. In Oklahoma, it’s too warm and humid in winter to have good storage without a root cellar. So, I find other ways to preserve them.
This year was an amazing onion growing season here. We grew onions bigger than a grapefruit and we used them until November. They lasted just fine in open storage. We cured them outside for two weeks in a partly shaded area making sure they stayed dry.
Next, we braided up the tops into braids and hung them in our pantry. You can do the same thing by using pantyhose. You place one onion in the bottom of the stocking and tie a knot, then continue up the leg separating each onion with a knot.
Then simply tie a loop in the end and hang it up by the loop. We harvest onions in early spring, so ours lasted more than 6 months. Our summer was very mild though. Most years they don’t save that long in the house.
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Too many onions
So, let’s talk about the types of onions, what you can use them for, and how they store best. There are mild onions and pungent ones. And there are white onions, red onions, yellow onions, sweet onions, green onions or scallions, leeks, and shallots.
White onions are mild fresh or cooked. You can soak them in water or vinegar to bring out their sweetness and mellow the sharpness. Sweet onions are white onions with more sugar content. They are juiciest, larger, and easier to peel than other onions, but are not good storage onions. They won’t last more than a few months.
Red onions are less sweet and hotter. They are so pretty in recipes. Yellow onions or Spanish onions are much sharper in flavor and far less sweet. Red onions and yellow onions are pungent. The pungent onions have thinner rings, are usually smaller, and cause the most years. They will store longer than white onions.
How to preserve onions
Refrigeration. Never store onions whole in the refrigerator, but you can slice them or dice them and store them. They will keep for a week or two that way.
Root cellar. Cool dark environments will help onions store for up to 8 months. Remember to check them regularly and remove any onions that are going bad to prevent the rot from spreading to other onions. Make sure they don’t freeze.
How to freeze onions
Freezer. Any variety of onion can be chopped raw and frozen in an airtight container in the freezer for about a year.
Cooked and refrigerated. Precooking excess onions and storing them in the fridge for a few days will give you a few more days to use them if you find an onion with a bad spot or something like that.
Caramelized. You can also caramelize excess onions and freeze them as well. They will last in the fridge for a week or two also.
To caramelize onions, melt 2 T of butter in a skillet, then add 4 sliced onions. Cook on low heat and stir occasionally for about 40 minutes until onions have darkened and are more of a jam-like consistency. Add a few tablespoons of chicken stock or water and some salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer to use later on bread, in recipes, or however you like.
Freezing them in ice cube trays and then popping them out for storage will give you cubes of flavor to use in your recipes. Think burger or pizza toppings, baked potatoes, and more.
Pickled. Pickled onions will last up to 6 months. Use this recipe for pickles and add onions to your pickles or pickle a whole jar of onions in the same brine on their own. You can either can them or store them in the refrigerator.
Dehydrated. Dehydrated onions will keep in mason jars in a cool, dry, dark place for years. Chill the onions for about 10 minutes and then slice, or dice them evenly. Dehydrate at 125 degrees until they snap when bent.
Some recipes such as French onion soup use a ton of excess onions, so look for some interesting ways to use a lot at once if you’re in a desperate situation to avoid waste.
What to do with a bunch of green onions
Green onions or scallions will store in the refrigerator longer if you rinse them and wrap them in a paper towel. Using it to dry them will give you a moist towel to start with. They will keep about two weeks in the crisper.
How to chop green onions
Line washed green onions on the cutting board and cut off all the hairy root ends and discard. Then chop the green onions in thin slices, about 1/8 to ¼ inch depending on what you’re using them for.
What part of the green onion do you use?
The green part of the green onion is a little tougher than the white part, but both are delicious and useful in recipes. The green part is a great baked potato topper or garnishes for soups. The white part is more pungent and a lot of people enjoy them more cooked.
Using the whole thing is best and they can be used interchangeably. Check out this green onion viniagrette.
How to preserve green onions
Green onions or scallions can be chopped and frozen in an airtight container. They can also be dehydrated the same way regular onions are.
How to use shallots
Shallots are in the allium family with onions, but they grow and look like garlic. They taste more like onions. They are small and hard to peel. They range in sizes, but the smaller shallots are generally milder. They are sweeter and milder than onions and have a slightly garlicky note.
They will last on the counter up to one month if kept cool and dry. If you don’t have shallots, you can substitute half the number of onions in your cooked recipe. It is not recommended to substitute onions for shallots in raw preparations.
How to cut shallots
To cut shallots, trim off each end and cut them in half. This makes the skin easier to remove. Once you have them peeled, slice each half into thin slices, turn and slice them across the other direction.
Shallots can be preserved by chopping and freezing or slicing and dehydrating similar to regular onions. You can also pickle them as well. Check out this french green bean recipe with shallots.
How to use leeks
Using leeks brings a wonderful flavor and aroma to recipes. First cut the leek in half lengthwise. Next, dip them in a bowl of water and let them soak for a minute. Then spread all the layers of each side open and swish through the water to remove any sand hiding down inside the leek.
Once they are thoroughly cleaned, you can slice them up into slices, or cut the halves in half and dice them up. To use them in a recipe, cook them down and brown them a bit to bring out all the best flavors. This potato leek soup sounds bomb.
How to store leeks
If you want to store them for just a day or two, you can place them in a glass of water as you would flowers in a vase.
Leeks can be stored in the refrigerator. They need to be covered, so put them in a Ziplock bag and seal it tightly. If you don’t seal them, they will make your other food smell like leeks. If you want to keep them up to 10 days, they can’t be sealed, so wrap them in a moist paper towel like green onions and store them in the crisper.
Dice them up and freeze them just like regular onions and you will have them to sprinkle into dishes for months. Leeks can also be pickled just like the other onion types. You can store them in a bucket of soil for a few weeks in your root cellar if you have one.
Leeks can be cooked and frozen in olive oil for use later. Using the ice tray to make cubes of them would be a great way to measure them out later. You can also cook them in water until soft and puree that mixture and freeze it in leek cubes for later use. These would both be great additions to soups and sauces later.
Onions are super versatile and diverse and make most dishes better. So, getting to know the different kinds and how to make them last the longest is a worthy adventure and a yummy one.