The Question of Scallions, Part II


A few months ago, I was reading some random article by some random hack, who claimed recipe writing is so easy, it should not be a standard by which to judge someone’s writing.  I was so angry, I blocked out who wrote it and where.  All I remember is my annoyance and my bitter feeling, “You wouldn’t think that if you were wondering night after night, should I write:

a)  Two scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts
b)  Two scallions, sliced into thin rounds
c)  Two tablespoons chopped scallions
d)  Two tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
e)  Shit, should it be ‘green onion’ instead of ‘scallion’?”

Korean cooking, as you saw in Part I of this rant, uses a lot of scallions and other pungent vegetables in the allium genus.  And although you may be able to make do without daepa, you cannot make do without regular pa, also known as scallions, also known as green onions, and also known, apparently by some people, as spring onions.  They are everywhere.

First, the little hairy root is cut off.  Then, for stews, salads, and kimchi, scallions are cut into two-inch lengths, sometimes on the diagonal, sometimes not.  But most often, they are sliced thinly as to create little round concentric rings of pale green and white.  If the scallion is a little fat, I’ll cut the white bulb in half lengthwise and then slice the whole scallion to create white half moons.

In any case, the green and white confetti falls on everything.  For last Sunday’s lunch, they showed up in the braised stuffed tofu, inside the meat and outside the tofu.  They were tossed in the eggplant salad and the simmered with the soy sauce-braised potatoes.  Of course, they were both inside the dumplings and outside the dumplings, floating in the soup.

Korean cookbooks call for 다진파, “dahjin pa,” and everyone knows what that means, the way Americans know what it means when a recipe calls for “minced garlic.”

So it never occurred to me that someone might not know what to do with a scallion, until a professional cookbook writer, editing one of my recipes, suggested “green and white parts, thinly sliced” instead of “chopped.”  It didn’t occur to me that someone might discard the white part or the green part.  (Based on my reading of Fuschia Dunlop’s cookbooks, the Chinese do that all the time.)  I agreed the word “chopped” didn’t sound right, since it sounds like something you do when you whack away with your knife with no care in the world.  But “sliced” seems to imply, I don’t know, “slices.”  And slices should be broad, flat, and thin, like American cheese.

And it certainly never occurred to me that there might be people out there who don’t know what “scallion” means.

Diane and I, while tossing some drafts back and forth a few months ago, ended up polling a bunch of our friends, clustered around the Bay Area in California and around New York City.  All the Asian people agreed, it doesn’t matter what you call it, a scallion is a green onion is a scallion.  But among the others, there was a semi-strong regional divide.  The people on the East Coast leaned strongly towards “scallion.”  I had a friend email me, “I know what green onion means, but I think you should say ‘scallion’ to be clear.”  And on the West Coast, Diane got comments like, “I didn’t know what a scallion was until I looked it up in Wikipedia!”

(Some people wondered what “two” meant, whether that was two stalks or two bunches or what.  That I am not even going to touch, I have enough to worry about.)

In the age of Wikipedia and Google Image Search, it probably doesn’t matter so much what words we use, so I should just chill out.  We’ll have some cute diagrams in the “Korean Ingredients” chapter, and we’ll be all set.

But I’m still curious.  If I asked you to cut some pa into more or less small round white and green bits, what description would make the most sense to you?


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3 Responses to “The Question of Scallions, Part II”

  1. Ariel Says:

    I’m korean so… I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer.
    Option b works for me.

  2. Zizou Says:

    Option A for greatest clarity. It’s helpful to indicate both white and green parts and it seems to be the convention in other books. I guess if you always use both parts you could just say it once in the ingredient guide.

  3. mamabatesmotel Says:

    Reblogged this on mamabatesmotel.

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