Friday, June 21, 2024

Spring onions: young, gifted and green

If you live, or spend any time, in Mexico, cebollitas — spring onions — are no doubt so familiar you don’t give them a second thought. And while they are delicious when grilled and eaten with tacos, carne asada and other traditional dishes, they also lend themselves delectably to all sorts of other recipes.

Spring onions, or “Mexican green onions,” as they’re sometimes called, are simply young “regular” onions harvested before maturity. They’re sweeter and milder, with a slightly herbal flavor, and have thinner skins than they will when they’ve reached their adult size. 

White ones are most commonly found, but sometimes you’ll see purple ones too. Unlike scallions, spring onions have a small bulb at the end. 

Like everything, the fresher the better! They should be bright in color, the tops not wilted, and the bulb should feel firm. 

Spring onion flatbread
Spring onion flatbread is a delicious and decadent option for breakfast, brunch or as an appetizer.

They keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator (wrapped in a paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag), and while they’re great grilled, spring onions add snap, color and texture eaten raw in salads. They’re a bright unexpected flavor in quiche, pastas, soups, stir-fries or omelets. Add them — remove the thick outer stems and slice thinly — just like with regular onions. 

In Japan, spring onion flatbread is a popular morning snack sold by street vendors. Some recipes call for yeast, but others — like the one included below — are a more simple pancake-like batter. 

To make your own grilled onions at home, rinse onions and remove the roots and any tough outer leaves. Cut to the desired length. Spray with olive oil or drizzle with a little oil and mix by hand. Grill on a hot barbecue for 15–20 minutes until nicely charred, turning occasionally. Serve when tender-crisp.

Deep-Fried Spring Onions

  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 cup buttermilk or water-thinned yogurt, mixed well
  • 1 cup flour
  • 8 spring onions
  • Salt

In a large, deep pot or skillet, pour 2 inches of oil and heat on medium-high till hot. Put buttermilk (or substitute) and flour in separate shallow bowls. Trim onion tops so they fit comfortably in pan. Remove outer layer; trim bottoms, then halve lengthwise. Dip onions in buttermilk, dredge in flour and fry 3-4 minutes until golden brown and tender. Drain on paper towel-lined plate; season with salt.

Spring Onion Pancakes


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 cup thinly sliced spring onions, from trimmed tops and bulbs
  • Salt

Dipping sauce:

  • 2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2-3 Tbsp. finely sliced spring onions
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

Combine flour and boiling water in a large bowl. Stir to combine until dough forms. Transfer to lightly floured surface; knead until a very smooth, slightly tacky ball forms, 3–4 minutes. 

Place dough ball in a bowl; cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to overnight in refrigerator. Meanwhile, mix 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil and sesame oil in a small bowl. 

To make the dipping sauce: in a small bowl, stir together vinegar, soy sauce, spring onions and red pepper flakes.

When ready to cook, divide the dough into four balls of equal size. Working with one ball at a time (keep others covered) roll into an 8” disk and brush with thin layer of oil mixture. 

Then roll tightly into a thin rope and twist into a tight spiral, tucking the outer end underneath. Using the palm of your hand, flatten the spiral, then gently roll out again into an 8” disk. Brush the top with another thin layer of oil and scatter with ¼ cup sliced green onions. 

pasta with zucchini and spring onions
Wake up a simple pasta dish by adding the sweet snap of spring onions.

Repeat process, rolling disk again into a tight rope, re-forming it into a spiral, and then rerolling into an 8” disk. (This lamination process makes a flaky pancake.) Repeat with remaining dough balls.

Heat one-quarter of the vegetable oil in an 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering; gently add first pancake. Cook, undisturbed, until golden on one side. Flip and cook until golden on underside, about 2–3 minutes per side. Remove to paper-towel-lined plate; season immediately with salt. 

Repeat with remaining pancakes, adding more oil if necessary. Cut pancakes into triangles and serve with dipping sauce or plain yogurt.

Pickled Spring Onions

  • 1 bunch spring onions (approximately ½ lb. trimmed and cleaned)
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. mustard seeds
  • 1/8 tsp. red chili flakes
  • Optional: ½ tsp. celery seed

Wash and thinly slice trimmed spring onions into thin rounds. In small pan, combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, mustard seeds, celery seeds (if using) and red chili flakes. Bring to a boil. Once the brine is simmering, add onions. Stir to combine and cook until onions are heated through, 2–3 minutes. 

Remove pan from heat; spoon onions and liquid into prepared glass jar. Close lid tightly and allow to cool. Once cooled, store in refrigerator; let rest at least two days before using. Keeps about 2 weeks. 

Pasta with Zucchini, Spring Onions and Herbs

  • 1 pound rigatoni pasta
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup thinly sliced spring onions 
  • 3½ cups zucchini, thinly sliced
  • ½-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup crema, heavy cream, half and half or plain full-fat yogurt
  •  Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh minced herbs (mint, parsley, cilantro)
  • Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta as directed on package. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté 30 seconds. 

Add onions; cook 2 minutes until translucent. Add zucchini; cook 3 minutes until just tender. 

Drain pasta; add to skillet with zucchini and onion; toss well. Stir in herbs. Add dairy/yogurt and stir until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving. 

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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