One for Alliums

The following appeared in this month’s Food Notes, the e-newsletter published by Edible Michiana. Check out the April issue for another piece by me, and subscribe to see some things I’ll be publishing there in the future, as well as other short stories and news items of regional interest (

Except for asparagus, the rare spring vegetable that takes to the heat of the pan and oven like a child to the beach, the Michiana markets right now give us their abundance in the form of the cool, the crisp, the pungent, and the bitter. Tables are piled high with leafy green lettuces, spinach, and kale, punctuated by the red and white globes of radish and turnip. Underlining all of this, though, are the alliums: ramps (wild leeks), their more civilized scallion and spring onion friends, the deceptively scallion-like green garlic, and, soon, the curly garlic scapes that come from the farmer’s need to thwart the flower and grow the bulb.

When my wife and I first began really trying to eat from our local markets, it was these alliums that posed the biggest culinary challenge. I had learned from my dad to swirl fat spring onions in lemon juice, salt and oil and eat them raw, and scallions, of course, can be chopped and sprinkled on all sorts of things. But how to really cook with all of these, when nearly every recipe calls for their bigger late-season cousins? It was this question that taught me the surprising importance of analogy in the kitchen: if you substitute like for like, the flavor may differ, but the result will usually be delicious.

So our rule became: in a recipe where onions are, there spring alliums shall be. Swap green garlic for the more familiar bulbed variety, the whites of scallions and ramps for onion. Your sauces, marinades, and sautés may taste a little unfamiliar, but they’ll still be delicious – most of the time. Analogies are, by definition, imperfect, so not everything always works. Spring is about willingness to try something new, though, so this weekend splurge on the scallions, rake up the ramps, and grab the green garlic. There’s still asparagus to soothe you if your experiments go awry.

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