With so many varieties of onions, I am still learning about them and how to use them. By no means this is an end-all, be-all guide; this is just a short list of the types of onions I use the most. For more on onions, check out this site.

Growing up in Ecuador, our meals used mostly red onions, white onions and scallions. I clearly remember my grandma telling how good onions were for me and that I should eat them daily. She used to eat red onions as if they were apples (…). I view onions as a “necessary evil”; I love the flavor it gives food, but I don’t love how they make my breath smell… And neither does my husband. But, if you are eating an onion-laden meal with someone else, then at least you’ll both be sharing a lovely onion breath!

Let’s begin with red onions. My nana used these onions for just about anything. Red onions have a relatively sweet flavor, although I do find them quite pungent, especially their smell. We use these onions in a variety of sauces and a lot in ceviches. Red onions are also used in aji, salads, and as a pickled garnish in a dish called Encebollado (ehn-seh-bo-YAH-doh), which is a type of potato and protein salad. It is not like an American potato salad that contains mayo; it is basically just potatoes and chicken or fish dressed in vegetable oil and lemon juice.

We also used white onions in many dishes, and sometimes my nana would substitute white onions for red ones when she made a refrito (reh-FREE-toh), which is a typical base for most dishes, consisting of tomatoes, peppers and onions, sauteed in achiote-infused oil. White onions are also sweet, and I also find them quite pungent in flavor. Mexican cuisine uses a lot of white onions in their salsas. We also used white onions in ceviches and in fillings for empanandas (em-pah-NAH-dahs) and llapingachos (ya-peen-GAH-chos). More on these recipes and what they are in later posts.

Scallions are also used in a variety of meals, and I remember my grandma used to use this type of onion in soups, and in fillings for empanadas and other type of potato and green plantain patties. Scallions have a much milder flavor when compared to a red, white or yellow onion. If scallions aren’t available, they can be substituted for green onions, which look similar to scallions, only skinnier and with a bulb at the bottom of the stalk.

I don’t remember seeing many yellow onions in my meals growing up, but again, it has been a long time! Yellow onions can be used when you don’t have white onions handy. They have quite a pungent smell, and man, do they make me cry! The great thing about all these onions is that they are available all year round.

From all the onions, I think shallots are my favorite, if there is such a thing as a “favorite onion”. I recently learnt about the existence of this onion – recently as in the past 5 years. These onions come in a cluster, similar to garlic, and pack some good flavor and a sweet aroma. I’ve used it mostly as an ingredient for salad dressings; I either mince it or grate it. I like to grate it, because I like a smooth consistency in salad dressings.

What other onions do you use in your meals?