In India as here, the rainy season is followed by a huge amount of green plants that respond to the water and are available for only a short period of time. The savory relishes made from these plants are called chutneys, and despite what you might see in restaurants here, there is no real rule on what plants can be used, so there are a lot of chutneys that make use of local wild greens. This chutney uses the wild allium, or onion relative sometimes referred to as wild garlic, angle onion, wild onion lily and "Allium triquetrum." Whatever you call it, this plant is distinctive because it smells like onion when crushed between the fingers and because the stalk has a triangular cross-section (above, right). Be aware that it resembles the highly toxic and ominously named "Death Camus" (above, left), which neither smells like onion or has an angular stalk. Whenever using wild ingredients, use caution and make absolutely certain you know how to identify plants and their look-alikes, and be aware of toxic plants.
Do you have wild onion in your backyard? These plants are highly invasive and do a lot to dominate areas, keeping other plants from thriving. So unlike other plants that I like to eat, I often pull these ones by the bulb, which resembles a green onion bulb. However, like leeks and green onions, this requires an extra cleaning step, as dirt gets layered in the folds of the plant base. The way to get this out is to wash the plants, chop them and then wash them again to remove dirt suspended between the onion layers.
Ingredients - these are highly subjective, and plants are often variable in their flavors, so taste the chutney as you process it and adjust the amount of other ingredients as appropriate. The younger, lighter shoots are more tender; cut away any leaves that are tough instead of succulent.
- 5-6 bunches of onion, enough to fill a large mixing bowl
- juice of 3-4 lemons or limes, to taste
- salt to taste. start with perhaps a tablespoon and increase until it tastes savory but not briny
- one thumb-sized piece of ginger root, peeled.
- optional-vinegar for cleaning
- cayenne powder, fresh chilies, chopped, or both. This is probably the most subjective ingredient. The potency of chilies and people's taste for them varies considerably. Chutneys generally taste spicy, but not so hot that it obscures the flavors of the other ingredients.
Wash the onions and then pull the flowers off of the onion stalks and put into a bowl of water, removing the papery veil that covers the flowers, then hangs under the flower bundle. Chop the upper stalks into half inch long pieces. If you have any of the whiter plant near the base, this is where the dirt hides, so slice these pieces lengthwise to expose the inner layers. As you chop the onion, discard anything that feels either slimy or tough. Put the chopped onion into a bowl, follow it with a dash of salt and a small splash of vinegar (optional, for cleaning purposes), then fill the bowl with water so that the plants can soak.
Peel the ginger, squeeze the citrus, remove the seeds and add the remaining salt and cayenne, if any. If using chilies, remove the stems and if you want them to be less biting, remember that the hottest part is the white pith, the skin has the flavor, so remove the seeds and pith if you want it milder. Wash you hands before wiping your eyes. If you are not using a blender, mince the ginger and chilies and put them into another bowl. If using a blender, a few pulses will make this a puree, scoop down any errant chunks and blend again. Rinse the onions once more. If blending, add them to the blender, otherwise, put them on a cutting board and cut the onion fairly fine and place into a bowl with the ginger and chilies. Now add the lemon juice and salt mixture, stir and taste. If it tastes to wild/green/chlorophyll, feel free to add more chili, salt and/or citrus until it tastes the way you like it. Lastly, add the flowers, which become an attractive garnish and add a bit of crunch to the chutney. This can be packed into jars with lids and stored in the refrigerator for a week or two.
Serve as a condiment for dinner, or use it in sandwiches, breakfast scrambles or other things that you would liven up with a bit of onion.
Note, collecting plants of any kind is NOT allowed in most open spaces. But wild onion is likely growing right in your own yard - or a friend's!