This garlicky blossom is the ubiquitous queen of springtime. Charlotte Muru-Lanning explains why you should get out and find yourself a bunch, and what to do with it.
Consider the onion family. We all know the brown onion practically runs the marae kitchen, shallot is definitely the perfectionist cousin with a stroppy streak, the spring onion wears an Apple watch and still hopes Red Peak will be our flag one day, the leek is awkward but probably the best looking, and red onions are fun but largely unhelpful when it counts.
Onion weed is definitely the misunderstood cute one.
And there’s really no better time than now to mask up, get outside and grab yourself a posy of these edible blooms. Namely, because they’re in season, plus if you’re in Auckland – it’s unlikely you have anything better to do.
Unassumingly meek in stature, this puti puti is actually rather tough, tolerating wind, damp and extreme cold or heat. In other words, they’d thrive happily in most of New Zealand’s rental stock.
You’ll spot them among grass or peeking out under neighbours’ fences (cheeky!) with their recognisable three-sided fleshy stalks and drooping white flowers. If you’re still unsure whether you’re holding the right kind of bloom, crush the stalk a little between your fingers – they should have an oniony scent. When the flowers and leaves start to disappear later in the season, the bulbs can be collected and eaten too. Once you know what onion weed looks like, you’ll never stop seeing them.
Be wary of where you’re sourcing them from too, ensuring it’s in an area that hasn’t been sprayed or contaminated. As usual, make sure to give them a good wash before you start cooking with them.
For Aucklanders especially, at this point of lockdown, the novelty and energetic enthusiasm of earlier weeks can start to wane. Finding a light among the specific gloominess that comes with this is important. And when that light is in the form of oniony flowers that can be used in place of chives, spring onion or leek, even better.
Here’s a list of onion weed ideas to get you on your way, from very simple to more involved.
Into your salad bowl
Chop the green stalks into a potato salad or sprinkle the flowers on top of a tumble of leafy greens and call yourself an entry-level forager.
Saute halved stalks in a little butter, salt and pepper as an easy side dish to accompany roast meat or a nice steak, or scoop onto a thick slice of toast.
Add the chopped greens into your corn, zucchini or pea flavoured batter to stud your fritters with extra colour and bite. Alternatively, be bold and make wholly onion weed fritters.
Add as you would spring onion or garlic chives to your wok. It can also be lovely to hero your onion weed by stir-frying a generous mound of it with lesser amounts of extra-firm tofu, pork or just-whisked egg.
Blitz onion weed with baby spinach or herbs (if you have them), walnuts or cashews, olive oil, parmesan or romano and salt and pepper.
Fermented onion weed
Give your weeds an extra good clean. Dirt is no friend to fermenting. Curl a handful of the stalks with flowers still intact into a sterilised jar. Cover with brine (I like to go with the ratio of one tablespoon of salt for each cup of water) and store in a dark part of your pantry for at least two weeks. Use in salads, to top rice or in sandwiches.
This is a lovely way to use the weed in its near entirety, stalk to petal. In a bowl whisk coriander, fennel seeds, turmeric, chilli, salt and gram flour. Cut your weeds into finger- length pieces. Combine your spiced flour and the onion weed pieces. Add enough cold water so you have a smooth, thick but runny batter (around half a cup for each cup of flour). The batter should cling to the stalks. Then fry small spoonfuls of the mix in hot oil. Cook until crispy and golden. Flip, drain on a rack (not paper towels) and repeat.
Dumplings, or any type of wrapped dim sum, are something that I personally prefer to leave to the experts. I have so much respect for anyone with the skills and knowledge to get them right. In saying that, if there was ever a time to attempt to make dumplings, it’s now. Make your filling, whether it be pork, prawn and egg; mushroom; or whatever it is you prefer. Finely cut onion weed stalks, just as you would chives, into the mix and carry on as normal. If you’d like to level up your onion weed game, hua juan (flower shaped steamed scallion buns) would be a perfect situation to replace scallions for onion weed stalks.