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Irish Independent

Spring into the wonderful world of onions with Rachel Allen’s scallion recipes for salads, sides and dips

Spring onion, sweet potato, sumac and feta salad. Picture by Tony Gavin

Spring onions — also called green onions and scallions — are very young onions that have been harvested before the bulb has had a chance to swell. Applauded for their high nutritional kick, it’s thought that spring onions, like most other alliums, contain not only antibacterial and antiviral properties, but may help to aid digestion and lower blood sugar levels too.

Spring onions take on lots of different and delicious guises, depending on how they’re prepared. Raw and crunchy with a pungent and grassy flavour, they can be sweated gently in a pan with butter to bring out a deep mellow sweetness, or grilled with olive oil until they are almost charred in patches, rendering them intriguingly smoky and interesting.

When grilling spring onions, all they require is a lick of olive oil, some crunchy sea salt flakes and coarsely ground pepper before being cooked on a hot grill pan or frying pan, under a grill or on a barbecue. Enjoy as a side for fish and meat, or as a a fabulous starter with some garlicky mayonnaise or the recipe below for this great romesco, the Catalonian nutty and spicy red pepper sauce.

I love this spring onion, sweet potato, sumac and feta salad, below. It’s great as a light meal in itself or super with some barbecued lamb or chicken. Feel free to simply roast the sweet potato with the olive oil and sumac, if you prefer. Cook the spring onions on the barbie or under a grill, but just make sure that they’re grilled until deep golden and caramelised.

The charred spring onion dip, also featured here, is similar to one Yotam Ottolenghi made when he last came to the cookery school at Ballymaloe a few years ago. It’s deeply sweet, creamy and smoky all at the same time — just divine to serve on crackers or with crispy potato wedges.

Rachel Allen Spring Onion and Sweet Potato Salad. Photo: Tony Gavin

Spring onion, sweet potato, sumac and feta salad

Serves 4-6
You will need:

1 large sweet potato (approximately 500g in weight before peeling), peeled
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 scant teaspoon sumac
12 spring onions, trimmed and cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or lemon juice
4 handfuls of lettuce
75g feta, broken into chunks
50g pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
A few coriander leaves

"This spring onion, sweet potato, sumac and feta salad is great as a light meal in itself or super with some barbecued lamb or chicken." Picture by Tony Gavin

1 Peel the sweet potato and cut it in quarters.Put the sweet potato pieces in a pot of salted boiling water and cook them for about 8-10 minutes until they are tender but still firm. Drain off the water and slice the sweet potato pieces to a 1cm thickness. Put them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the sumac, tossing gently to coat them.

2 Put a grill pan or frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. While the pan is heating up, drizzle the prepared spring onions with approximately 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then cook them on the pan for 1-2 minutes on each side until they are soft and marked with deep-brown char lines. Season them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Take them out of the pan and set them aside.

3 Put the cooked sweet potato slices in the pan along with any olive oil and sumac from the bowl. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until deep golden — you might need to cook the sweet potato slices in batches — again seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Take the sweet potato slices out of the pan and set aside with the spring onions.

4 To make the dressing, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil with the crushed garlic and the cider vinegar or the lemon juice, whichever you’re using, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5 Arrange the lettuce in a shallow bowl or on a serving plate, then scatter the sweet potato pieces and the spring onions over the top and drizzle with most of the dressing. Arrange the feta chunks and the lightly toasted pumpkin seeds on top, followed by some coriander leaves and if you have them, a few edible flowers and a final drizzle of the last of the dressing. 

Rachel Recommends

To keep spring onions at their very best in the fridge, wrap them up in wet newspaper or kitchen paper.

Grilled spring onions and romesco

Serves 6
For the romesco, you will need:

1 large red pepper
3 large ripe tomatoes or 15 ripe cherry tomatoes
75ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 large cloves of garlic
2 slices (slightly stale if possible) white or sourdough bread
75g roasted almonds (see my Top Tip, below)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Lemon juice or red wine vinegar to taste, approximately 2 tablespoons
25-50ml water

For the grilled spring onions, you will need:
Approximately 30 spring onions
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Preheat the oven to 220C, 425F, Gas 7.

2 Cut the red pepper in quarters, lengthwise, and discard all seeds. Place the quarters on a baking tray or roasting tray. If you’re using large tomatoes, cut them in quarters; if you’re using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half. Add the tomatoes to the peppers, drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil, and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the whole unpeeled garlic cloves to the peppers and tomatoes and spread everything out on the tray in a single layer. Put the tray in the preheated oven and roast until the tomatoes are soft and the peppers are tender and starting to turn slightly golden at the edges — this will take about 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

3 While the vegetables are roasting, soak the white or sourdough bread, whichever you’re using, in a few tablespoons of water until it is soggy — about 5 minutes. Squeeze out any excess water.

4 When the vegetables are roasted, squeeze the soft roasted garlic out of the skins, and discard the skins. Put the pulp in a food processor with the roasted pepper and tomatoes, and all the juices from the tray.

5 Add the roasted almonds, the bread, the remaining extra-virgin olive oil and the smoked paprika, and blend to an almost smooth paste. Add some lemon juice or red wine vinegar, whichever you’re using, and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. If necessary, add a little water to thin out the sauce slightly.

6 Next, grill the spring onions. Place a grill pan or frying pan over a high heat until hot (or preheat a grill in the oven or a barbecue — see point 7 below). While the pan is heating up, drizzle the spring onions with the extra-virgin olive oil, then cook them on the pan for 1-2 minutes on each side until soft and marked with deep-brown char lines. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

7 If you’re cooking the spring onions under the grill or on a barbecue, they’ll cook very quickly, so watch them closely and turn them regularly.

8 Take the spring onions away from the heat once they are cooked. Arrange them on a large serving plate with the romesco drizzled over the top or served on the side. This is divine while still hot or just cooling down to tepid. 

Top Tip

To roast the almonds for the romesco or anything else, spread them out on a baking tray and cook them in a hot oven for approximately 6 minutes until they are golden brown under the skins — otherwise, you can toast them in a dry frying pan over a medium-to-high heat.

"When grilling spring onions, all they require is a lick of olive oil, some crunchy sea salt flakes and coarsely ground pepper before being cooked on a hot grill pan or frying pan, under a grill or on a barbecue." Picture by Tony Gavin

Charred spring onion dip

Serves 6
You will need:

1 whole head of garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Approximately 4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
150g (approximately 12) spring onions trimmed
150g cream cheese
110g sour cream or crème fraîche

1 Preheat the oven to 220C, 425F, Gas 7.

2 Slice the head of garlic in half from side to side (not from top to bottom). Season the cut sides with sea salt and a drizzle of the extra-virgin olive oil. Put the two halves back together and place in a small ovenproof bowl or saucepan and cover with a small saucepan lid or a piece of tin foil.

3 Roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes or until the garlic is completely tender and soft inside. Allow the garlic to cool, then squeeze the soft garlic flesh out of the skin. Reserve for later.

4 Place a grill pan or frying pan on a high heat and allow it to get very hot. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil into the pan then add in the trimmed spring onions — all of them if you can squash them in in a single layer. Cook them, turning them over half way until the onions are burnt and blackened – keep your nerve! If you prefer, you can cook the spring onions under a hot grill.

5 Allow the spring onions to cool then chop them as finely as you can and mix them with the cream cheese, the sour cream or crème fraîche, whichever you’re using, the reserved garlic purée and 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well and taste and correct the seasoning.

6 Serve the charred spring onion dip with hot crispy potato wedges or crackers.