As an experienced home cook, I can’t help but play favorites when it comes to ingredients, and in my kitchen, scallions are frequently the star of the show.
Scallions, or green onions, are mild alliums with small bulbs and long stems. It is a versatile ingredient that can be eaten cooked or raw, and is popular in cuisine around the world, from a garnish on buttery mashed potatoes to the flavorful bulk of Chinese scallion pancakes.
Between pad Thai, basil beef, risotto and fancy scrambled eggs, I use about two bushels of green onions a week. The organic green onions at my local farmers market are a full dollar more expensive than the regular, non-organic ones at the supermarket (though they definitely worth it for the taste and sustainability bonafides).
Any pennies I could pinch on my green onion habit would be a welcome respite for my grocery budget. When I heard through the online sustainability grape vine that I could regrow green onions indefinitely from the scraps leftover from cooking, I knew I had to try. Here is how it works:
1. When you are cooking with green onions, keep the ends of the bulbs with the roots attached (I like to call these the “root butts”).
2. Place the bulbs root-end down in a small jar or glass (or, in my case, a salad dressing-sized plastic container).
3. Add enough water to cover the roots.
4. Set the jar on a sunny windowsill and keep the roots submerged, changing the water at least once a week.
5. After about two weeks, your green onions will have formed long green shoots, and you will be ready to reap the rewards.
After a few days, green shoots emerged from the tops of the bulbs. Watching them grow over the course of the next few weeks was delightful. The stems gradually developed a gradient, from dark green when they emerged to the oniony off-white, as the concentric layers pushed upwards and unfurled.
When the shoots are 4 or 5 inches long, they are ready to use. At that point, the scraps will have developed long enough roots that you can also plant them in a pot, though they may need some teasing apart (mine were a snarled mess when I took them out of the container, but they were relatively easy to separate).
If you keep the green onions in the jar with water, they will produce green shoots for a while, but the plant will eventually weaken, the shoots will yellow and the bulbs will stop producing. In the pot, apparently, they may even flower (the blossoms are, apparently, edible, and delicious in salads) and grow to be larger than the bundles in the grocery store. Time will tell for my scrappy plants.
My scallions never got quite so big as the originals, and once the tips of the leaves started to yellow, I figured it was time to snip some. The scallions were a little more tender than if I grew them fresh or bought them from the store, but they held up to chopping and sauteing. They also tasted delicious in my scrambled egg sandwich, so I can officially endorse this regrowing method as an easy and tasty way to reduce food waste while flavoring your food.
Apparently, scallions are not the only supermarket vegetable you can regrow and reuse. Leeks and fennel can be regrown with the same technique, though they take a little longer to grow. You can put the heart of romaine lettuce and the base of celery in water and they will regrow leaves. Many herbs — including basil, mint and rosemary — can also be placed in water to grow new roots and transfer to a pot of soil. Pineapple can be regrown from the leafy tops to produce new fruit in a few years. You can even grow an avocado tree from a pit (though whether it will flower and fruit is a different story).
Before you contribute to food waste or add food scraps to your compost, consider what you can use again and again. It will help you save money on groceries as well as contribute less to your local landfill.