Spring onion and ginger oil, mo hanh and some of their cousins

The first time I asked for spring onion and ginger oil in Soho, the rather snotty waiter informed me it was only meant to be served with soya chicken – what a waste! It goes really well with loads of things: stirred through plain noodles, on toast, on chilled tofu, and is a pretty instant dressing for a plain tomato or cucumber salad. It doesn’t store brilliantly well in the fridge – only a few days or maybe a week before it begins to lose its fresh zing, but it does freeze well. I suggest you either make a small amount, so it doesn’t get forgotten at the back of the fridge, or you use a tad more oil and freeze it – the oil means it never sets completely hard, and you can scoop what you need from the tub as and when you want, like a savoury Heston Blummenthal sorbet.

Cantonese style Spring Onion and Ginger oil

Ingredients
1 tablespoon fresh ginger , peeled and finely chopped.
4-5 spring onions, white and mid green part only (reserve darker ends of leaves for something else.
2-3 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil – corn or canola are too yellow and flavoured. ¼ teaspoon of salt or to taste.
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If you can, use young ginger – where the skin is quite thin and you can easily scrap it with a finger nail – it is less fibrous and much juicier, but it depends on the seasonability of ginger where you live. Above all, do not, please, please do not use very lazy ginger from a jar or even the little frozen cubes they now sell, because you will ruin the sauce and your dinner. If you can’t get hold of fresh ginger, make the mo hanh recipe below instead – just as delicious and even more versatile.

Method
Prep your ginger. Remove any really old leaves/papery bits from the spring onions, and trim off the root. If you have scallion style spring onions, with a big bulb, as opposed to Japanese bunching onion, you might as well cut the bulb off and use it in cooking – it doesn’t really matter, it’s more a case of making what you’ve got go further. Cut darkest green – top 1/3 – leaves off and use to make mo hanh below. ..again, you don’t have to. Chop onion in fine rounds and combine in a pestle and mortar or a bowl with the ginger and the salt. Mash together for a minute or 2, so you work the salt in and it dissolves in the juices before you add the oil. If you haven’t got a pestle and mortar, just in a bowl with the end of a wooden spoon will do – if you’re making more to freeze, you could do this bit by blitzing it in a machine.
Add enough oil to moisten and cover your mixture, but don’t drown it.

I know some recipes say to heat the oil before adding it – I never do, but if that’s what your mum or grandma said to do, do it 😉
I aim to make mine the colour of ‘eau de nil’ green – again this is a condiment, rather than a foundation sauce.

Mo Hanh – Vietnamese Spring Onion Oil

Without the punch of the ginger, and with no salt, this is much subtler and therefore even more versatile. It sneaks into lots of things in my house, not just Vietnamese dishes.
I use just the tops of the spring onion because a) I usually have made the version above as well and b) I really like the bright emerald green…but I’ve seen recipes that use the whole onion…it’s up to you.

Ingredients – makes about 100ml
50ml peanut or sunflower oil – again canola or corn oil won’t do
Top 1/3 of 5-6 spring onions or 2-3 whole ones

Method
Chop the onions into fine rounds (about 4mm). Heat the oil in a small pan over a medium heat. Add onions for 10-15 seconds – literally –and transfer immediately to a bowl. Place in the fridge for about 15 minutes, this helps fix a really nice vivid green.
Will store for about 2 weeks in a screw top jar in the fridge.

…and some of their cousins

Well, more like poor relations, really…I loosely follow the mo hanh recipe for the green bits on old onions/garlic that have sprouted, in fact anything from chives, garlic chives to the leathery tops of leeks, if I’m not making soup. For tender things like garlic chives, I pour hot oil over them, stir and put in the fridge, and for leeks I shred the tops finely and heat in the oil for longer – 30-40 secs…I then strain the oil and discard the shreds.

You can use the method to make garlic oil as well, replacing the sunflower oil with olive oil and cooking for a bit longer, but stopping before it turns brown– I know some recipe books on Italian food say leave garlic until it almost blackens, then discard it, but I’ve never seen anyone do this in real life, either in Italian homes or in restaurant kitchens.

In fact, you can pretty much use any of the allium family to flavour oil, as they are all edible for humans (but, weirdly, not for dogs – the onion family is toxic to canines if eaten in excess, according the marvellous Plants for a Future website www.pfaf.org, which has an amazing database of over 7000 useful plants).

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粥 glorious 粥 – rice porridge, Cantonese style

Having made so much pepperpot soup, I ate it for lunch and dinner Saturday, Sunday and Monday – but it was a bit full on to have for breakfast as well.
Sunday morning I made 粥 – zhōu – rice porridge – congee. It is one of my favorite ever breakfasts whatever you call it and it costs about 25p for a litre, including spring onion and ginger for the topping – bargain.
If you look on wikipedia, there’s names for it in 24 or so languages from all over Asia, and in Chinese cooking it is cooked in various styles, both sweet and savoury, (also sometimes with other grains, ground or whole, such as millet, corn etc) – lots of Chinese shops in the UK also sell a multi grain mix. Nearly everywhere, though, it is recommended for the elderly, the sick and young children, as well as for breakfast – it is generally great comfort food, with a sweet, fragrant yet clean taste. I know I always think of making it when I feel old, or ill….or childish 🙂
It’s also often served with a dim sum meal.
Different recipes use different types of rice, and for ages I thought this was down to which region or community the cook came from, but a few months ago, in a lazy moment, I counted how many porridge recipes were in my chinese cookbook from the Jilin Cookery School – a whopping 167, it turns out, and they use a variety of methods and rice types – I had been, for years, using half glutinous and half normal rice – which usually turned out just fine, but not always 😦 so I asked the lovely bloke who works at Hung’s on Wardour St (he’s in charge of the bbq meat and noodle section at the front, but he also does the porridge) and after a bit of confusion, ‘cos we were using different words for the same thing and my chinese is not perfect – he told me they use short grain ‘japonica’ rice – if you’re English, and you’re reading this – this is not short grain pudding rice – it’s everyday japanese rice or sushi rice. Don’t buy the tiny packs for making sushi in the supermarket either – it costs a bomb. In a Chinese/Vietnamese/Korean/Japanese store an unbranded bag should cost about £1.99 a kilo, and you only need 100g to make a litre.

Ingredients for 2 big bowls
100g/ 2 handfuls short grain rice
Approx 1 litre of water
5-6 fine julienne of fresh ginger
chopped spring onion
salt or something salty – to taste

anything else you fancy – coriander/mushrooms/greens/seasoned freeze dried tofu/chinese sausage/fried shallot/fish/ chilli bean paste – sky’s the limit.

you can adjust the level of water to make it thinner or thicker, but it should be at least 8 parts water to 1 part rice for the thickest kind, and then you’ll have to stir it constantly near the end so it doesn’t catch and burn. To make a thinner version use 12-14 parts water.

Method
Wash the rice to get rid of excess starch dust, place in a heavy bottomed pan with water and bring to the boil – stir a couple of times to make sure no grains have stuck to the bottom, and turn down to the lowest simmer possible – the secret is cooking it slowly and gently, so that the starch comes out of the grains without breaking up – cook for an hour, hour and a half, stirring a few times near the end to make sure it doesn’t catch – make sure you only put the lid on the pan half way, because it will bubble up and mess up your stove even at such a low heat. Season with salt or bouillon powder or what you will, pour into your bowl, add ginger and spring onion and whatever you’re using and enjoy. Often for breakfast, the porridge is just seasoned, and pickles/fermented beancurd or whatever are served on the side, but you’re in the comfort of your own kitchen so you can do what you want.