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Little Egyptian onions and big elephant garlic

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The Egyptian onions that have made it to the table in our home of late have been roughly golf-ball size or slightly smaller, which means they barely rate a mention alongside all those giants from the commercial fields of Texas. But I am delighted with them just the same. Not only are they almost perfect dinner-plate size, but they are a whole lot larger than usual for the breed.

I mention this because the waning weeks of summer are an appropriate time to divide and replant Egyptian onions. Then when fall rolls around you can turn your attention to garlic and elephant garlic.

Egyptian onions, sometimes known as the poor man's onion because they bear a cluster of miniature onions on the end of a seed stalk each fall, are generally used as green scallions in spring salads. Or they can be cooked and served as ''miniature leeks'' early in the year.

That was the way we used them in our home until a reader contacted me one day to say that I wasn't getting nearly as much mileage out of my Egyptian onion bed as I should. His message: Prune off the flower heads as soon as they form and all the energy that would go into forming the top bulbs is diverted to the bulb at the base.

It's an effective technique, and whoever prepares the dinner will tell you how much simpler it is to peel a ''decent onion for a change.'' In my opinion, too, the onion at the base has more flavor than the top onions.

My approach with Egyptian onions is to remove the seed pods from a majority of the plants in the bed, leaving two or three to flower in the usual way. These form the stock for the following year's crop through division of the parent plants and by planting the bulblets as well.

Garlic, as most of us know, is a far-from-gentle member of the onion family. There's bite and fire in every clove, and chefs who seek the subtle flavor of garlic in their dishes know that one clove goes a long way - unless you're using the elephant variety. As the name suggests, elephant garlic is big, but it's also mild. While mine don't reach the size of some growers', they are considerably larger than the conventional garlic I also grow.


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