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An ode to the spring onion

Content warning: discussion of eating disorders

I really do add spring onions to everything, you know. They go with my eggs, on my toast, in my tuna and on top of my bolognese. They’re the base of pretty much every pasta recipe I make and I’ve put them in more than a few soups. Every day, I move one step closer to mixing scallion juice into my brownies. After that, who knows. Sorbet, perhaps?

A spring onion slots beautifully into any recipe. It’s got the distinctiveness of chilli or ginger, but cooler and brighter – the perfect way to liven up a basic meal, or add another layer of complexity to something more flavourful. I always keep a bunch or two on hand; they’re practically a necessity for me.

Predictably, of course, I wasn’t always so liberal with my spring onion usage. Up until about five years ago, I’d barely heard of the things, let alone tasted them. For essentially all of my life, I’ve suffered from what people around me at the time called picky eating and now, with hindsight, can fairly confidently be identified as some sort of eating disorder. My preference for basic foods and my tendency to skip meals was only exacerbated by becoming responsible for cooking for myself. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, I essentially alternated between two meals – eggs on toast and tuna pasta. If I didn’t have the ingredients for either, I usually didn’t eat anything.

Things started to change when, standing smack dab in the middle of the Tesco Extra aisle, I had an epiphany: I missed eating vegetables. Alright, it probably wasn’t that dramatic. I don’t even remember why I chose spring onions specifically. But for whatever reason, I came home that day with a bunch of them in my bag. I chopped them up, sprinkled them over my eggs, and that’s when the love affair started. They crept into everything I cooked, meal by meal.

It didn’t end there. Eggs on toast (with spring onion) started to bore me, so I bought an avocado on a whim one day, and, who’d have guessed – it turned out I quite liked avocado. Plain noodles (with spring onion) weren’t cutting it any more, so in went chilli flakes and soy sauce and other basic ingredients I’d always been too scared to try. My spring onions were my safety net. I knew I liked them, and I knew the sharpness of them could sideline any flavours I ended up not liking. What I found, however, was that I did like all of these new ingredients. I enjoyed the taste of the avocado and the textural contrast it added, too. I struggled a little with the heat of the chilli at first but soon enough I was adding it to tomato soup, using its aftertaste to extend the flavour.

My new fervour for cooking only grew. Now that the floodgates had opened, I was looking for ways to make everything I ate more interesting. I learnt the five flavour types, and now I always keep lemon juice on hand for a splash of acid – honey, too, for a sweet undertone. Bored of tinned soup, I made my own;it really does taste so much better. Then, of course, I had to bake some bread to go with it. “You know what goes well with tomato soup? Cheese,” said everyone on the internet, and I’d never liked most cheeses, but I sucked it up, bought the mildest I could find, and sprinkled spring onion all over it. And I enjoyed it! I stopped skipping lunches, because I learnt to love making them. They were a part of my day I actually looked forward to. Finding new ways to combine flavour and texture is something I absolutely live for. Going out to eat has become a lot easier, too; I no longer end up holding back tears in a restaurant because there’s nothing on the menu I can bear the thought of.

I’m not going to call myself a ‘good cook’. My shopping basket gets a little more varied every week, but there’s still whole categories of ingredients I haven’t tried. There’s ingredients I’ll probably never be able to bring myself to try – blue cheese, for one (although I always said I couldn’t stand the idea of smoked salmon, and you’ll never guess what’s sitting in my fridge right now). I regularly burn toast and split sauces. But I still feel a little burst of pride whenever I remember my flatmate saying “oh, wow, you can actually cook!” when he saw me roasting a courgette, because the me five years ago would never have even thought of doing that, let alone adding paprika to the soup it went into.

The soup didn’t actually taste much like courgette, for the record. I put too much spring onion in, and it overwhelmed everything else. I’m not complaining, though – you can never have too much spring onion in your life.

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