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Preserving a Traditional Crop: 4 Tohono O’odham I’itoi Onion Recipes

The Tohono O’odham I’itoi onion, a traditional crop, is the precursor to the cultivated shallots grown today; they are tasty in salads, salsas, and dips.
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The Tohono O’odham I’itoi onion flourishes in the dry Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona, and is a traditional crop Native American farmers are working to preserve using sustainable farming methods.

The traditional crop is a precursor to today’s shallot and can used in any number of recipes, here are just a few:


Sweet and Sour I’itoi Onions

Courtesy Jacqueline Soule/Savor the Southwest

In this recipe, feel free to use red wine and red wine vinegar or white wine and white wine vinegar. It makes a great topping for grilled fish or chicken or mix it into steamed vegetables to add flavor.

1 cup cleaned and sliced I’itoi onions

½ cup water

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

2 tablespoons wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar or agave syrup

½ cup water (again)

In a large heavy frying pan, cook sliced I’itoi onions and water covered over very low heat for 10 minutes until soft. Add wine, wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar or agave syrup. Cook over very low heat for another 10 minutes.

Marinated Wheatberry Salad with Cholla Buds

Courtesy Martha Burgess/Savor the Southwest

2 cups cooked and cooled whole white Sonora wheatberries

¼-½ cup of your favorite Italian vinaigrette dressing

¼ cup chopped celery

¼-½ cup chopped colorful sweet peppers

¼ cup minced I’itoi onions bottoms and tops, or minced red onion

½ cup cooked and cooled cholla buds

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Romaine lettuce leaves as a bed

Marinate cooked white Sonora wheatberries with the dressing overnight in fridge, stirring once or twice. Mix in all fresh chopped veggies and cholla buds. Serve on a fresh romaine leaf. Makes 6 generous servings.

Caramelized I’itoi Onion Dip

Courtesy Slow Food USA

This onion dip makes about 6-8 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 bunches of I’itoi onions, chopped (about 2 cups)

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt

4 ounces fresh goat cheese

Heat oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool slightly.

In a blender or food processor, add yogurt and goat cheese. Top with caramelized onion mixture. Pulse a few times until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Serve.

This recipe was adapted from Chow Hound.

Wild Onions and Eggs

This recipes makes about 3-4 servings.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 bunch of I’itoi onions, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

6-7 eggs, beaten

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and ¼ cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften and water is absorbed, about 2-3 minutes. Top with beaten eggs and stir gently with a spatula to scramble, pulling the edges towards the center of the pan. Cook until the eggs are holding their shape yet still glossy, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the hot pan sit on the burner for another 30 seconds or so. The residual heat will cook the eggs, making them extra creamy. Serve.

This historical recipe comes from