Onions, garlic, shallots and leeks everywhere. Whether you’ve harvested an abundance of these alliums, gleaned a windfall from a friend or you just couldn’t control yourself at the farmers’ market, there’s a way to store or preserve these delightful crops until the perfect opportunity to use them in the kitchen arises—and to make them last until next year’s harvest.
1. Root Cellar
A cool (40 to 50 degrees F), dark and slightly humid root cellar is the way to go for long-term storage of fresh onions, leeks, garlic and shallots. For onions and garlic, braid the stems or group them in mesh bags to hang from the ceiling. Store leeks upright in a bucket, layered with damp sand or soil, or in areas of the country where there’s little risk of a deep freeze, allow them to stay in a heavily mulched garden until ready to use. Keep any alliums away from the potato bin, as they give off a gas that causes the potatoes to sprout and soften, and place a fan nearby for good air circulation.
Keep in mind that some allium varieties store longer than others. Hot onions store four to six months, while sweet onions store two to three months. Shallots and garlic keep six to eight months, and leeks keep for three to four months.
Garlic, shallots and hot onions will keep in the kitchen for two to three months in a basket or open bowl in a cool location; sweet onions will keep for one to two months. Make sure they receive good air circulation to prevent rot. Store scallions and leeks in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator in plastic bags for 10 to 14 days. Don’t store any alliums in the same container as potatoes.
Onions, shallots and garlic can easily be peeled, chopped and stored in a zip-top freezer bag for long-term storage and easy access for cooking. They will keep indefinitely in a freezer kept at 0 degrees F, but are best used within eight to 12 months. Scallions and leeks should not be frozen, as the texture is compromised considerably. Only use frozen alliums in a cooked dish, such as soups, sauces and casseroles, as texture will be affected.
Relishes, pickles and jam are great ways to put up alliums in the summer and add spark to a panini or a martini. Be sure to use tested recipes and canning instructions provided by a reputable institution, such as National Center for Home Food Preservation. Store your home-canned products in a cool, dry place, and they’ll remain tasty for up to a year.
One of the easiest ways to store onions, shallots, garlic, leeks and even scallions is to dry them. Their size is dramatically reduced, and tightly sealed in airtight jars, they last for more than a year. Vacuum-sealing the jars will allow them to last even longer, up to two or three years.
To dehydrate, simply slice and spread out on the trays of a dehydrator. Follow the directions for your machine and dry until very crisp. Outdoor drying is recommended because of the odor. To reconstitute dried vegetables, pour boiling water over them to soak for 30 minutes or simply add to a pot of soup. They will soak up some of the stock, so you might want to add more liquid to compensate.
6. Water Glass
Scallions do not store well, so if it’s the fresh greens you’re after, keep them fresh in a water glass on your windowsill. Trim the tops, leaving about 4 inches of the root ends. Use the greens in salads or as a garnish for soup, and place the root ends in a glass with water about 1 inch deep. Change the water every few days. Cut the greens as needed, and watch new ones grow. They should produce well for three or four months, just enough to get you through the winter.
7. Batch Cooking
With an abundance of fresh alliums, you can always make recipes using high rations of alliums to eat immediately or freeze for later. My favorite allium recipes include onion soup, onion rings, onion gratin, caramelized onions, dips, roasted onions drizzled with butter and a generous sprinkling of herbs, scallion pesto, leek soup, caramelized whole shallots, and 40-clove garlic chicken. Find my recipe for onion rings below:
Recipe: The Best Ever Onion Rings
Treat yourself to a snack that will use up an onion or three, as well as that sourdough starter you almost forgot in the back of your refrigerator.
- 1 quart peanut oil
- 3 large onions, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick, rings separated
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 2 cups sourdough starter
- 1/2 cup cold seltzer water
Heat oil in wok or large, heavy saucepan to 375 degrees F. In large bowl, toss onion rings, flour and seasoned salt. In medium bowl, whisk sourdough starter and seltzer water until smooth.
Dip floured onion rings into batter and carefully drop them one by one in oil. Only fry one layer at a time, flipping them over with tongs when bottom is golden, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle immediately with extra salt if desired.
Enjoy your abundance of onions, garlic, leeks, shallots and scallions, and keep them safe to enjoy for the months ahead. You won’t be sorry you took the effort to preserve the goodness of the harvest.
About the Author: Patricia Lehnhardt gardens, cooks, and writes in Galena, Ill., when not tending her shop, The Great Galena Peddlery, which specializes in herbs and teas.