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The Joys Of Spring Onions

Well, scallions, actually.

At least that’s what we always called them at home.

In fact, as far as I can recall, I only started to become aware of the alternative name “spring onion” when I got into far eastern cookery, where it was hardly possible to flick through a cookbook without stumbling across a clutch of recipes that involved spring onions in some shape or form. And even though, technically, the terms scallion and spring onion (and green onion, come to that) all referred to exactly the same vegetable, somehow spring onion seemed a bit fancy-pants to me. Scallions were down-home. Something you’d put in a potato salad. Spring onions were exotic and always turned up with their friends ginger and garlic in spicy Asian dishes. As for green onions – well that was just the name of a tune from the 60’s by Booker T. and the MGs

After many years of dabbling in Asian-style cookery, though, I notice that I now tend mostly to use the term spring onion, except perhaps during the growing season and with my wellington boots on, when it’s scallions that I fetch from the garden. Go figure. For the sauce described below, however, it’s spring onions all the way.

celery, ginger and slices of spring onion

saucy ingredients: celery, ginger and, yes, slices of spring onion at the top

This recipe is from my first Madhur Jaffrey book – Far Eastern Cookery – the one that started it all for me (in an Asian cookery sense) and came to me by way of my friend CJ. The original recipe, a spring onion sauce for chicken, was one that myself and CJ used to make a lot. The sauce was full of fresh, raw ingredients, while it accompanied chicken that had a big black pepper kick. We adored it. The recipe later fell into disuse after I went down the vegetarian route and was only resurrected much, much later, when I remembered that it was really all about the sauce.

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Spring Onion Sauce for Chicken (or Quorn or Tofu or…)

This is a much tweaked and somewhat simplified version of the recipe in Far Eastern Cookery. The sauce, though, is essentially as described in the original, including the unusual addition of coriander stems. The main change is that I didn’t use raw garlic in the sauce but opted to use garlic in the cooked part of the dish instead. I’ve also increased the quantities for the sauce, because I always found myself wanting more!

The Sauce Veg:
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 inch cube fresh ginger
  • 2 spring onions
  • few stems of fresh coriander
The Sauce Liquid:
  • 3 tblsps light soy sauce
  • 3 tblsps distilled white vinegar
  • 1.5 tblsps tomato ketchup
  • 6 tblsps chicken stock or water for the veggie version
  • 3 tblsps toasted sesame oil
  • 0.5 tsp sugar
The Protein Bit:
  • 300g chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces, or use quorn pieces or cubes of tofu for the veggie version
  • 1 inch cube fresh ginger
  • 1 spring onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tblsp whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tblsps light soy sauce
The Sauce Steps:
  • Cut the celery into minute dice.
  • Cut the spring onions into very fine rounds.
  • Peel the ginger, cut into paper-thin slices, then stack the slices and cut first into thin slivers and then into minute dice.
  • Hold several coriander stems together and cut crossways into minute pieces – you need about 1 tblsp worth.
  • Combine the celery, ginger, spring onion and coriander stems in a bowl. Cover and set aside.
  • In another bowl combine the liquid sauce ingredients – soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sesame oil and water or stock – plus the sugar and set aside.
The Rest:
  • Using a dry frying pan, toast the peppercorns for a few minutes, then crush using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and set aside (I actually use more peppercorns than the tablespoon I’ve specified here because I like things very peppery – experiment and see what works for you)
  • Heat some oil in a pan over a medium heat.
  • Finely chop the garlic, ginger and slice the spring onion. Add to the pan and stir and fry for a minute or two.
  • Add the chicken, quorn or tofu pieces. Stir and fry for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add crushed pepper and soy sauce, stir and fry for another few minutes until the pieces are cooked through
  • When ready to serve, combine the two bowls of sauce ingredients and pour over the chicken/quorn/tofu. Serve with rice.
The Portions:
  • This much feeds about 3 people
The Variations:
  • Fry some mushrooms along with the chicken/quorn/tofu
  • If you like, and have time, you can marinate the chicken (or tofu) for a couple of hours before cooking, using a mix of the ginger, spring onion, pepper and soy sauce that’s cooked with it above. This is closer to the original recipe.
  • Just make the sauce part, add crushed black pepper to taste, and enjoy with rice


  1. Natasha - 5 Star Foodie

    Those spring onions look so pretty and the sauce sounds delish!

  2. gastroanthropologist

    I love using scallions ( i think i call them all three depending on what it is I’m cooking). They give such a mild, clean onion flavor. I’ve been using them a bit more as of late because I haven’t been able to find chives here in the UK.

  3. Navita

    oh they look gorgeous!…scallions or spring onions…whats in a name..or is it! ;p

  4. Fearless Kitchen

    This is a really interesting sauce. I like scallions a lot, but I don’t think I’ve seen them mixed with ketchup before. I bet it tastes wonderful!

  5. MiketheWaiter

    you took an ordinary item and made it extraordinary. The recipe was very complete. After 40 years in the food biz, I always called them scallions… didn’t know what spring onions were…. proof that even an old dog like me can learn something new every day!
    Peace to you from Indiana, USA, mTw

  6. kickpleat

    haha, love green onions (the song and the food!) i’ll definitely try this out, as i’ve had a similar sauce for fish, but never tried anything like this with chicken. yum!

  7. Lori

    Great recipe! I like using green onions as well. They have a unique flavor I think. My dad grew them in his garden every year and they would pull them up, clean them and let them soak in salt water then eat them whole like a carrot stick. I could never get used to that, but love them in recipes. :)

  8. Tangled Noodle

    First of all, the photo is beautiful – if that were the finished dish, I’d gobble it up. Second, the recipe sounds so very, very tantalizing and will go into dinner rotation. Third, I’m a ‘green onions’ gal – funny, I always thought ‘scallions’ was the fancy word!

  9. Daily Spud

    Natasha: thanks!

    gastroanthopologist: love chives too – though I usually have to grow them if I want to make sure of a steady supply…

    Navita: guess it doesn’t really matter what you call them as long as they taste good :)

    Fearless Kitchen: it does taste pretty good, alright!

    Mike: welcome and thanks so much for your kind comment

    kickpleat: it’s a good ‘un

    Lori: I don’t think I’d be sure about eating them whole like that either but love ’em otherwise

    Tangled Noodle: thanks and enjoy (whether you use green onions, scallions or spring onions)!

  10. History of Greek Food

    Greeks love to use green onions, they are of the most important ingredients giving flavor to salads and pies. Great recipe and beautiful photo!

  11. Reeni

    I always call them green onions, I think I’ll call them spring onions from now on! I never knew they were one and the same. I love all onions. Even the most pungent. Raw.

  12. Maggie

    The sauce sounds wonderfully flavorful. We use all the names around our house but green onions is the most common. I really like adding them at the end cooking, even in dishes with regular onions for the bright green flavor and crunchy texture when they aren’t cooked much.

  13. Daily Spud

    History of Greek Food: welcome! I just love these fellas (whatever they’re called) in salads and pies and all sorts of things…

    Reeni: thanks for stopping by – I’m an onion lover too – raw, yes, bring it on, but for the really pungent stuff, it needs to be in small doses, so I avoid that really stinky onion breath :)

    Maggie: it is a great sauce, I love it!

  14. Chef E

    Very artistic…I love spring onions…I love onions…

  15. Marc @ NoRecipes

    LOL… call me redneck, but I’ve always called these green onions. Since I started blogging I noticed everyone else was calling them scallions, so I figured that was the fancy name:-)

  16. The Duo Dishes

    Scallions, sesame and soy sauce were made for each other as is evidenced by their lovely alliteration!

  17. Jenni

    Here in the US (or at least in my kitchen) the fancy word is “scallion.” Funny, that. Also, we make a distinction between coriander the spice and the leaf of that same plant. We call the leaves cilantro. I love it in guacamole; it’s equally at home in Mexican and Asian dishes. Kind of odd, but I’m not a culinary anthropologist. I’m sure there’s some sort of explanation.

    I have a friend who hates cilantro so much that he rather meanly called me a “freak” for liking it. :( Lots of people seem to think that it tastes like soap. I think it is lemony and delightful.

  18. Daily Spud

    Chef E: what’s not to love?!

    Marc: redneck? nah, I wouldn’t call you that at all :)

    Duo Dishes: lovely alliteration indeed!

    Jenni: I too think fresh coriander / cilantro is delightful, can’t get enough of the stuff

  19. Mothers Day Flowers

    I never knew about the other names for spring onions and I have never made them look as pretty as you either! The sauce sounds yummy, I can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Fastfoodprice

    I tried the recipe two times. The second time I decided to replace the distilled white vinegar with some biologic German acid (same amount) and I concluded that it made the tast even better. The result was a bit more “exciting”. For the rest my compliments for this delightful recipe.

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