Recipe Substitutions: Ramps, Chives, Scallions, Spring Onions, Garlic Scapes

By Caroline Homan, Food Education Coordinator
Nothing will quite jolt your taste buds from their winter slumber than that first bite of wild leek – ramps – in the spring.

To me, the experience is olfactory, as well: Whether you dig them up yourself in moist, woodsy areas or pick them up at City Market via a local forager, they have a pungent, garlicky aroma that wafts from them and speaks to their fresh, fleeting quality.

In March I was doing some recipe testing for spring salads. Using a red, overwintered onion in place of a spring onion in the Warm Chickpea and Arugula Salad gave the salad a powerful bite, and not at all what I was going for. It made me think about how something as simple as the variety of onion you use and the seasonality of it can have a profound effect on the dish you’re preparing.

So let’s take a look at a few members of the allium family we’ll see in spring and how to use them:

  • Ramps: Also called wild leeks, you can eat the leaves as well as the soft, garlicky-tasting bulb. Because the green leaves are tender and edible, you can use them in pesto – just substitute both the leaves and bulbs in place of basil leaves and garlic. Also popular in the South, where they grow in the Appalachian Mountain region, they can be chopped finely and added to buttermilk biscuits and cornbread. My favorite recipe is for pickled ramps, from Cooking with Shelburne Farms.
  • Chives: Nothing quite says German food to me like chives. Growing up, we would always have chives growing in the garden or in a flower pot, and we would put them on dark German bread with boiled eggs, cream cheese, or on new potato salad. I really like chives because they have almost a crunch when you eat them, and their flavor is fairly mild, almost nutty. They make a nice garnish for spring soups, like cream of asparagus. Their flowers are also edible, and make a pretty garnish for salads or cheese plates.
  • Scallions (Green Onions): Scallions are the young shoots of onions that are harvested when their tops are still fresh and green. They have the sweetest flavor of any of these onion varieties. They add nice color and flavor to spring salads and dishes where they are only lightly sautéed or steamed, like stir fries, fish steamed in a “packet,” and Chinese dumplings. They make other flavors pop when they are scattered across the top, like tofu or scrambled eggs.
  • Spring Onions: Some people refer interchangeably to scallions and spring onions, but when I think of spring onions I think of the slightly more mature red or yellow onions with 1-inch bulbs and green tops that can either be sautéed or eaten fresh. They are the perfect onion to sauté in butter or olive oil for spring pasta with peas, quiche, or a delicate vegetable tart or flatbread. I love to slightly caramelize them – a quick process, as they are so delicate.
  • Garlic Scapes: While the bulb is the most commonly eaten part of the garlic plant, the garlic scape – the tender, curving stem that grows in the spring – is delicious and milder in flavor than the bulb. Try mincing it and using it in salad dressing or hummus in place of garlic. Like scallions, you only want to have garlic scapes come in contact with heat for a short time. This makes them ideal to use in quick-cooking stir fries and Thai curries. Last spring I had a lot of garlic scapes, so I made garlic scape “pesto” with garlic scapes and olive oil for the freezer. It provided a nice, green flavor in light soups and vegetable sautés this winter.

To substitute among the different alliums, in general substitute bulbs for bulbs (the bottom of scallions, spring onions, and ramps) and green for green (chives, the scallion greens, ramp leaves, and garlic scapes) because they react differently to heat. From there on, it’s more a question of flavors along the onion-garlic and mild-spicy spectrums, so play around with what you like – and what’s in season.
Chive-Goat Cheese Spread

  • 8 ounces fresh local goat cheese, room temperature
  • 4 ounces local cream cheese, room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • For presentation: 12 whole long fresh chives (with flowers, if possible)

Combine goat cheese, cream cheese, minced chives and garlic in medium bowl. Stir with fork until well blended.

For a pretty presentation: Place a large piece of plastic wrap on work surface. Clip flowers plus 2 inches from chives and place in a small vase or bowl with water. Arrange chive stems in a crisscross pattern atop center of plastic. Spoon cheese into center of chives, forming 4- to 5-inch round. Lift edges of plastic, wrapping chives around cheese and covering cheese completely. Refrigerate overnight. (Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.) Remove plastic wrap from cheese. Place cheese on platter; surround with chive flowers and serve. Serves 8.

Adapted from Bon Appetit