Market Watch: Spring Onions
It's time for spring onions like chives, ramps, scallions and more.
Move over, dried-up storage onions, it’s spring onion time! Really just immature onion shoots, these types are sold with their green tops attached, and they are often milder and sweeter than their grown-up relatives. Right now, there is an impressive array on offer — from regular scallions, grass-like chives, and regional varieties like young Walla Wallas, to less familiar types like ramps, a wild cousin to leeks. Often less pungent in flavor than storage onions, spring onions can be used both raw and cooked to add onion-y flavor to recipes without overwhelming them. Scallions are the most common type of spring, or green onion. Though they are available all year long, scallions are at their peak in spring and summer. More exotic spring onions will disappear from markets when the weather heats up in early summer. So get your fix now!
Spring Onion Facts
All onions contain vitamin C. But the green tops of young onions, like scallions, chives, and other spring onions, provide a good dose of beta-carotene as well. Chives are particularly high in vitamin K, with about 15 of the daily value in just 2 tablespoons. Clinical studies have shown that all members of the onion family have anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties.
Choose spring onions with bright green, crisp tops and shiny, clean bulbs. Compared with storage onions, green-topped onions are quite perishable. Refrigerate them in a closed plastic bag and use them within a few days.
What to do with Spring Onions
It helps to think of most types of spring onions as two separate vegetables—the bulb and the green tops. The white or purple bulbs of scallions and other varieties of spring onions are often sautéed briefly to tame their more pungent flavor, while the green tops can be sliced or minced and stirred into dishes at the last minute, or used raw as a garnish.
While not completely interchangeable, feel free to make substitutions. If you don’t have chives on hand, finely chopped scallions will serve instead. Keep this rule in mind: the more slender the bulb, the milder the onion.
No offense to storage onions, which are an integral part of nearly every world cuisine, but spring onions are more versatile players. The best known, scallions, are the easiest way to add onion-y flavor to food. You’ve probably bought countless bunches for Asian stir-fries or Mexican dishes. But how often are you left with a handful going limp in the produce drawer? That’s when it’s time to get creative. Sliced or minced, they can perk up potato or egg salad, be stirred into scrambled eggs or grain salads, whizzed up with your favorite vinaigrette, combined with yogurt and lemon juice in a dip, or sautéed briefly in olive oil or butter along with other spring veggies like asparagus, snap peas, or broccoli. Probably my favorite way to use up an entire bunch is to make a cheater’s version of Chinese scallion pancakes: Whisk an egg white and some toasted sesame oil and brush onto flour tortillas. Sprinkle the tortillas with a generous amount of chopped scallions, top with another tortilla and seal the edges. Then sauté in a nonstick frying pan with a few teaspoons of oil.
Those types of spring onions with larger white and purple bulbs can be used much the same way as scallions, though their flavor will be more intense. They are also great grilled, roasted whole, or used in soups and stews in place of storage onions. If you run across wild ramps at a farmer’s market, you’re in luck. These alliums, which grow wild in many parts of the country, have a garlic-y, even funky flavor. Try sautéing them in butter along with wild mushrooms or asparagus, then stir them into an omelet, or combine with fresh pasta. Ramps are also delicious in a pureed soup with potatoes or fresh peas and cream. If you’re brave, you might even try eating ramps the way my West Virginia-raised grandpa did: whole and raw, as an accompaniment to a sandwich instead of a pickle!
Skinny chives are the perfect way to add a hit of mild, onion-y flavor to salads, soups, baked potatoes or deviled eggs. Or they can be stirred into softened butter and used as a topping for steak or fish. If you’re using them as a garnish, do it like the pros: Use a pair of scissors to snip them directly over food. Chives are a cinch to grow in a garden box, and produce pretty purple blossoms that are also edible.