The allure of alliums

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew —Elizabeth Cecil

Arrive at my house in Vineyard Haven anytime around 6 pm and you’ll find me either peeling, chopping, or dicing garlic and onions. These aromatic alliums are the foundation of almost everything I cook, thanks to my son Dan, whose favorite go-to phrase in the kitchen is: “Gonna eat the onions ‘til they’re all gone.”

Dan’s 25 and he’s autistic; when he loves something, he loves it deeply. When he was a little boy his two loves were vacuum cleaners and beaded necklaces. He looked for vacuum cleaners in every store we went to and carried several strands of brightly colored Mardi Gras beads with him at all times. These days his love of onions and garlic supersedes just about everything else when it comes to food. As soon as he hears me getting the wooden cutting board out, Dan makes tracks to the kitchen. I’m not a fan of pre-chopped veggies because they never seem to taste as good as when you chop them yourself. So I chop. Dan likes to grab any little piece of stray onion or garlic that falls off the cutting board and pop it into his mouth. I probably buy more onions and garlic than anyone I know. I also buy more Listerine than anyone I know.

According to the internet, onions were used as currency in the Middle Ages, and were even buried with the pharaohs, considered appropriate, since all those rings that symbolize eternity. And, the website “” even states: “The onion has a reputation as a potent aphrodisiac and has been referenced in many classic Hindu texts on the art of making love.” The site also says that in the days of the Egyptian pharaohs a few thousand years ago, celibate priests were forbidden to eat onions because of the potential effects on their libido. Who knew?

Dan hanging out at the Lookout this spring. —Connie Berry

I also did a little garlic research. Even recognizes the benefits of garlic. It’s been used to treat everything from heart disease to prostate cancer to snake bites. Not to mention the whole “keeps vampires at bay” benefit. Dan loves garlic so much that he pours garlic powder on top of the already garlicky curry I make. He pours it on top of pizza and french fries too. He can’t get enough.

Dan works at Thimble Farm, helping with the hydroponic planting and bagging up veggies to sell. I’m concerned because I’ve heard they’re adding garlic to the list of plants they grow, and onions will be added soon as well. I’m torn. Do I tell them about Dan’s enthusiasm for both, or do I let them find out the hard way? Maybe I should just apologize now in print. Dear IGI: I’m sorry if my son Dan has eaten all your alliums. 

Dan’s not particular about the types of alliums he consumes. He’s just as likely to take a bite out of a red onion as he is to snatch some diced shallots or scallions. I usually buy extra bunches of green onions just so I can give him his own bunch. It’s not uncommon for Dan to pick up an onion and chomp through it as if it were a McIntosh apple in autumn.

I have noticed that Dan rarely gets colds, so maybe he’s onto something with the alliums. He is known as the genius in our family after all. His siblings refer to him as “Baby Jesus.” They say that I think he walks on water. I think they’re just jealous.

By now we’re all used to this base in all our dishes at home, and I think we’ve all grown to love garlic and onions. We always eat em ‘til they’re all gone.

Chickpea and Butternut Squash Stew

(adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

1½ Tbsp. olive oil
2 med. onions, chopped
8 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1½ tsp. paprika
3 med. carrots, cut into about ¾-inch pieces
1 med. butternut squash cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2½ cups water
1 large can crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
1 large can chickpeas, or two 15-oz. cans, drained and rinsed
1 heaping tsp. sriracha


Plain Greek yogurt
Large bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

In a large pot, warm 1½ Tbsp. olive over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, then stir in garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. Stir in cumin, paprika, and garam masala, and cook for 1 minute. Add carrots and squash and 2 cups water to onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until carrots and squash are tender, approximately 20-30 minutes.

Add tomatoes and chickpeas. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in sriracha and a half-cup water. Cover and reduce the heat to simmer for about 10 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. After ladling it into soup bowls, top with Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro.