A new year is here again and here is one of my personal favourites. One thing I miss a lot about Goa is shopping for fruit and vegetables at the Panjim market. In comparison, the markets out here seem almost boring. The couple of supermarkets here where I can occasionally find unusual fruit or vegetables are a distance away. So imagine my surprise when I found Onion Scapes at my corner vegetable vendor’s shop! He told me he would be selling it for a couple of months as it was the season for it. He calls it “Ulli Poovu” which in Malayalam means onion flowers. I know it as “Ulli Thandu” which means onion stems. They’re more commonly known as Scapes as they’re known in the English speaking western world.
The scape is the flower stem of the allium family – onions in this case, and also of garlic, chives and leeks. They should be harvested while the stems are still tender, green and the flowers are just beginning to bud. Otherwise they mature and the stems become fibrous. If left on the plant, the buds will open out into beautiful flowers which unfortunately will take up energy required for the onion bulbs to grow.
Onion Scapes are milder in flavour than onions themselves and can be used in a lot of dishes. They’re very versatile as they can be chopped up and added to salads, pasta and pizza,omelettes and soups. These scapes can be ground into pesto and baked into savoury quiches and tarts. Here I’m cooking them into a “Thoran”, a mildly spiced stir fry from Kerala in which the flavour of the Scapes shines through. This dish can be prepped and cooked up in about 15 to 20 minutes.
Ulli Thandu Thoran – South Indian Stir-fried Onion Scapes
- 2 big bunches Onion Scapes
- 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 gram tsp blacklentils/ urad dal
- A sprig curry leaves
- 1/4 tsp asafoetida powder
- 3 to 4 dried red chillies broken in half
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 cup freshly grated coconut
- Neatly trim off the cut end of the scapes if necessary and then chop them small. Heat the coconut oil and add the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the lentils and stir till they turn golden. Add the curry leaves, asafoetida powder and the broken chillies and stir a couple of times.
- Now add the chopped scapes and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the turmeric powder, salt and about a quarter cup of water. Bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat.
- Cover and let it cook until all the water is absorbed, and the scapes are cooked. You can cook them till soft or till they still retain a “barely there” crunch according to your preference. Take the pan off the heat and just before serving mix in the coconut. Serve warm on the side with a meal of rice and Sambar.