I’itoi Onions are another must-have plant if you live in the desert Southwest. This gorgeous onion was brought here to the New World by Jesuit priests in the 1600’s—which in itself is enough to to make me want to grow it! It was given to the Tohono O’odham people who grew it on I’itoi mountain. The name I’itoi (pronounced Ee-toy) means Elder Brother, the creator, in Tohono O’odham legends. I’itoi onions grow in clumps, and reproduce by forming more and more bulbs under the ground. They are small, with leaves that look like chives, and bulbs more like shallots. But unlike chives and shallots, they grow in the desert like they were born here. I just love them in the garden and in my cooking.
How to Grow and Cook I’itoi Onions
This is what they look like in the spring. A scene right out of a cottage garden.
You can transplant I’itoi onions any time of year, just pluck them out of the ground and move them. Fall, however is the time to separate them to make new clumps. It’s the beginning of September here in Phoenix and my I’itois are beginning to grow like mad.
You can see the robust growth coming out of the summer-dried leaves.
If you would like to make more clumps of I’itoi onions, simply pull some out of the ground and gently pry apart the bulbs. After that you can just pop them in the ground and they’ll be multiplying in no time.
I think my bee-waterer (modified bird bath) will look lovely surrounded by I’itois, don’t you? They will likely flower in the Spring and the bees will love it. Plus, these little clumps will soon fill in the space completely.
Here is a clump I pulled up last May to use in a recipe that called for fried shallots. Why bother buying shallots, when you can run in the backyard and pullout your own gorgeous I’itos?
I chopped off the roots and most of the greens (which you can use like green onions or chives) and then sliced them up.
Sauteed in olive oil until nice and caramelized, I used these for an Indonesian soup recipe called Soto Resah. I’ll share that later because it is OUT OF THIS WORLD!
So are you ready to plant some of these beauties? You can find I’itoi Onions for sale locally from Vilardi Gardens or a variety of farmer’s markets. Or you can order them here:
Of course, if you have a friend who grows them, I’m sure he or she would love to share a few with you. That’s what gardeners do, you know.