3/2/11 Secret Spring Onions

Post date: 03-Feb-2011 11:43:28

Spring Onions have run through my life recently. It all started with an obsession with some spring onion noodles that Aunty Lee Leng drove me 45 minutes across town in Singapore (and if you know Singapore, that’s the other side of the country!) to eat. She took me to some dingy basement in some nondescript office block, and we ate in a wholly unpromising Shanghainese restaurant - and the spring onion noodles were amazing. They were quite plain - no meat, a simple sauce, and this incredible spring onion taste. My Aunty Lee Leng is a real foodie and a great chef. She and I dissected all the foods we ate (I made notes in my food notebook!) and discussed the way to cook them. She’s tried to cook some of these dishes before with limited success. What she did tell me was the spring onion taste was in the oil, so I resolved to try and replicate it.

Imagine my delight when I returned to the UK and discovered that my local Chinese shop sold exactly the right kind of noodles. Now I just had to work out how to make the oil! I had identified the ingredients of the dressing, I was sure. I tried frying some spring onions in oil but didn’t get the same intensity of taste, so I decided I needed more, but didn‘t get round to it for a while.

Meanwhile I got myself an assistant. Shortly after I had my first supper club, I got an e-mail from someone looking for intern work in a supper club. I was in stitches! I’d only just started and already I was getting job applications! Reena was looking for experience in Supper Clubs because she’s writing her masters thesis on them - she’s studying at the Institute of Gastronomic Sciences (yes, there is such a place!!) in Italy. I was more than happy for the help - surprisingly I was one of the only ones that opened their doors to her. So for the last 2 supper clubs (and a cooking for the homeless session), Reena has been helping me out. 13 years younger than me, I tease her and call her Spring Onion. Little was I to know how spring onions would take over my life for a week.

One day before my Chinese New Year supper club, I was in the market, and spotted someone selling boxes of spring onions for £1.50. Normally you get about 3-4 bunches for £1, so I thought there might be around 8 bunches in the box. That would do nicely for another spring onion noodle test. I needed to do some kind of noodle for my Chinese New Year dinner - very traditional. Great timing. However, when I got it home I realised how tightly packed they were - there were around 20 big bunches! Arrgh. What to do with so many spring onions?

Thus my Chinese New Year supper club developed another, secret, motive. How to use up the spring onions. I had so many that if you imagined that you were putting them on a plate to eat just them as a main meal, I could have fed 4-6 people! On the phone to Reena, I moaned about being sick of chopping spring onions. I never wanted to see another spring onion again (she hoped that might make me drop her nickname). I snuck them in everywhere. I had a (successful) 2nd test of the spring onion noodles. That used up almost half (luckily the oil can keep!). The vegetable dish was chosen because of its high spring onion content. Ma Po Tofu can swallow a whole lot of spring onions. Luckily it’s one of my sister’s favourite dishes, and she was coming. Guo Tie fillings, garnishes for steamed fish and everything else… almost the only place I couldn’t get them in was the dessert!

I think you could call the Chinese New Year supper club a success. I was full to capacity, fed everyone too much as you should do on Chinese New Year, and I think they all enjoyed it, especially the spring onion noodles. My rice actually cooked OK and in the right quantities (finally worked that one out! - I didn't use the rice cooker!), and, most importantly, I have only 2 spring onions left. J