Green onions get green light from once-wary diner

The Baltimore Sun

Perhaps it is because they are among the first promising crops that pop out of the long-dead ground. Or maybe it is because my once--strong resistance to them was worn down by one of their biggest fans. For whatever reason, this spring I have become a fan of green onions.

I used to call them scallions. But along with my conversion to green onions, I got an education regarding their names. The authentic scallion, I have learned, is a specific type of immature onion. Its bulb or bottom has straight sides and is not wider than the base of its leaves.

A bona-fide scallion also has a flavor that is a bit milder than that of an ordinary, bulbous-bottom onion. I never paid much attention to the bottoms of green onions. Until now.

Now I know: Straight and skinny means scallion; curved and ample means green onion.

I do not care for raw green onions. They taste hot and grassy to me. But my bride loves them. She will snack on them, eating them as if they were carrots. Over the 36 years of our marriage, the green-onion tango has been a regular part of our kitchen dance. She puts them in dishes, I fish them out.

Recently, we tried out a new dish - one that combined cooked green onions in potato pancakes. It forced me to reconsider my anti-green-onion stand. Initially, the sight of the green onions dotting the sides of the potato pancakes made me suspicious. I thought this was another failed attempt by the green-onion lover to sneak the ingredient into supper.

Then I tasted the pancakes and I discovered that these onions had been "defanged." Cooking had calmed them down.

The other ingredients in the dish were eggs and ground cumin. I am a cumin-loving guy. I use a lot of it in my beef brisket rub and have made it a member of my list of "most-favored ingredients."

One summer a few years back, I grew onions in my vegetable garden. The best part about growing your own onions is that you can harvest them almost any time you feel like it.

If you get impatient in the spring, as I did, you can yank salad varieties, or spring onions, out of the ground. When you have a raw dirty onion dangling in your hand, you feel like all those hours you have spent digging and hoeing have finally delivered a reward.

Later in the summer, if you are a wise, patient gardener and space your onions correctly and cover their tops with soil and water them regularly, you can pull big, fat onions out of the ground and feel even better. I never got there.

This year, I am trying to grow leeks, an onion relative that requires even more patience than everyday onions. So far, my leeks have not made it out of the seed-starter kit that is sitting in a sunny second-story window of my house. We shall see.

The green onions with bulbous bottoms that were used for the potato pancakes were "harvested" from a Baltimore grocery store.

After their roots were snipped, all the remaining parts of the green onions, from stem to stern, were chopped into quarter-inch slices.

Grating the cooked potatoes, 3 pounds of them, was a little more work. The grated potatoes, bound with eggs and flavored with a couple of teaspoons of cumin, were easily formed into fat pancakes.

After a short session in a hot skillet coated with olive oil, the cakes emerged with a lovely brown skin, dotted, however, with the suspect bits of green onions.

My first bite was tentative. There was, I was pleased to discover, no burn in this dish. The onions had given the potatoes tang, without sounding fire alarms.

I praised the cook, a green-onion fanatic. She smiled and replied that knowing her audience, she had toned down the supply of onions. Instead of the 12 that the recipe called for, she had added only six.

It was enough for this newfound fan. It proves that when you are trying to win converts to green onions, you are wiser to use them by the half dozen.

Potato-Green-Onion Cakes

Makes about 14 cakes

3 pounds large white-skinned potatoes

6 to 12 green onions, chopped (6 for mild flavor, more for bolder notes)

salt and pepper to taste

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, cover and refrigerate until well chilled. (Potatoes can be prepared 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

Using a hand grater, coarsely grate cold potatoes into large bowl. Gently mix in green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Beat eggs and cumin in small bowl to blend; gently stir in potato mixture. Form into 2 1/2 -inch-diameter cakes, about 1 inch thick. Place cakes on baking sheet, cover and refrigerate until ready to cook. (Cakes can be prepared 6 hours ahead).

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add potato cakes and fry until golden brown, about 8 minutes per side, adding more oil as necessary.

From "The Bon Appetit Cookbook"

Per cake: 109 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 19 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium

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