Genius Recipes

The 2-Ingredient Southern Side Dish That Needs No Salt

This week’s Genius Recipe from cooking legend Edna Lewis requires little more than a skillet and five minutes.

June 24, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

If you think of scallions strictly as a garnish or seasoning, you’re in for a rather life-changing surprise.

Because, once you know their secret, you’ll be able to cook them as a fresh, sweet green vegetable to pour, still-sizzling, next to creamy beans or crisp chicken or scrambled eggs—in five minutes, barely having lifted a knife, with just one other ingredient at hand.

Your new 5-minute side dish. Photo by Kristen Miglore

I first lit on this recipe when we started quarantining at home in March, when everything about our new reality was leaving me frazzled and lost. Re-reading Edna Lewis’s breakout 1974 cookbook The Taste of Country Cooking before bed each night was a balm. (1)

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Top Comment:
“I will pick up fresh scallions from the green market this weekend but I know I won't be able to control myself. I am going to finish the scallions with Maldon salt.”
— David H.

Her voice is graceful and clear as she describes the happy rhythms of life in the small farming community where she grew up, Freetown, Virginia—so named by her grandfather and two others who founded it, newly free from chattel slavery. Every recipe and menu in the book, both for celebratory feasts and everyday suppers, is tied to the season, and whatever had been growing and hatching and curing.

Her Skillet Scallions, which appear as part of the menu called “An Early Summer Dinner”—with sautéed veal kidney, spoon bread, salad of Simpson lettuce and young beet tops, strawberries and cream, and sponge cake—stuck in my mind, in part because of its ease and rare honoring of scallions in their whole form. But perhaps even more because of Edna Lewis’ definitive final sentence: “No salt or pepper will be needed.”

Piled in a skillet with only foaming butter and the water still clinging from rinsing, the scallions quickly steam and soften, losing their sharp funk and leaving behind a mellow sweetness that’s so fully flavored as to not need anything else.

No fine-chopping here—two swipes with the knife and you're done.

“In my opinion, they are an underused vegetable and taste almost as good today as they did years ago,” she wrote in a later recipe for Creamed Scallions in her following cookbook In Pursuit of Flavor. So, if you haven’t yet, you may want to start regrowing your scallions now.

Of course, as you work these into your own rhythms, you could play around with any seasoning you like—a sprinkle of lemon juice, a pinch of ground chile, a few slices of ginger. Or throw them into the skillet after having seared other things like steak or chicken thighs, as I’ve started to do to save washing a pan.

But you needn’t and I hope that, at least the first few times, you won’t, to understand the simplicity that Edna Lewis wanted us to taste.

(1) To learn more about Edna Lewis’s life and impact on the food world, I highly recommend Francis Lam’s New York Times Magazine essay Edna Lewis and the Black Roots of American Cooking.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • Rocky
  • tinyapartmentchef
  • J-Lon
  • Nancy Kramarenko
    Nancy Kramarenko
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Rosalind P. November 19, 2020
I know every mother has done this, but it makes me SOOO nervous to see the baby in one arm where there's so much heat and flame. One little leap or reaching out -- yikes. Maybe it's just that I am/was too clumsy to ever try that. Kristen is adept at everything!
Rocky September 20, 2020
The first time I had cooked scallions was when my Mexican buddy put them on the BBQ grill. He had soaked them and to my total surprise he put several bunches on the hot grill (and salted them).
I will surely try at home now thanks to reading here.
tinyapartmentchef July 16, 2020
What a simple and delicious side dish! As stated - no need for me to add salt or pepper. I served with crab cakes and corn risotto.

Kristen - I've been really enjoying your home videos and have made a number of your genius recipes during quarantine! Thank you!
J-Lon July 4, 2020
While the production quality of these at-home videos is obviously not quite as high as the ones you shot at Food 52 headquarters, I think I may actually like them better. Just something very genuine about them. Seeing you work through the recipes at home makes them feel much more real world and approachable. Kudos to you folks! Curious: What Lavalier microphone are you using now? Is it wireless? That definitely helps improve the sound. And what lens does your husband have on his phone?
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thanks so much, J-Lon. I'm checking with our video team on the brand of the lavalier but the thing that looks like a lens is actually a Rode VideoMic (a backup microphone).
Kristen M. July 14, 2020
And this is the lav! 9
Nancy K. July 3, 2020
Made these last night as a side for grilled Moroccan spiced chicken.....Wonderful and sooo easy! As a salt lover, I have to admit that although I liked it without salt, it was even better finished with a little Maldon sea salt!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you for trying them, especially without the salt at first!
Marti June 29, 2020
Made these tonight with some wonderful Farmers Market beauties! What a delightful surprise--the onions were sweet, earthy, buttery, full of flavor and texture and not a bit "onion-y". Just a beautiful color on the plate with a delicious steak, and rosemary roasted sweet potatoes on the side. Great summer meal--yum!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Alexandra S. June 28, 2020
Oh gosh that baby! Kristen, these look delicious. Can't wait to try them!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you, Ali! :)
Colleen June 26, 2020
I had an extra bunch of green onions, needed a home, tried, it great......some part stringy after peeling, but bought fresh today, for a new batch. I was skeptical, like I was with the eggs/ghee and pita, but super awesome! Really try these, I haven't been not happy yet!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you, Colleen!
ANNE June 25, 2020
Something new and easy to try with scallions from my CSA this summer. Need to check out Edna Lewis's cookbook too!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Yes, it's a really wonderful book—to read and to cook from.
Brigitte N. June 25, 2020
I really like your weekly videos, simple and tasty. Your little one is very lucky to taste scallions cooked this way. You put a smile on my face every week !
Have a great day !
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you, Brigitte!
FS June 25, 2020
This may be the perfect recipe for the green onions in my garden. Despite the author's admonition I will be adding salt and pepper, maybe even a little soysauce and Korean red pepper, yum!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
That sounds delicious, too.
Lindie June 25, 2020
What a beautiful baby. So lovely to see you sharing her with us. You look like a wonderful mother. Love the video. Sure the scallions are great too, but not the star of the show.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you so much, Lindie.
Lee June 24, 2020
I cooked this tonight along with yakitori style chicken skewers and brown rice. The scallions were the perfect side. Cooked exactly by the recipe. Simple and delicious.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Wonderful—thanks for letting us know!
David H. June 24, 2020
I keep thinking when I watch your videos how lucky your husband is to have you. : ) You're a wonderful cook. You focus on the simple things and you cook with love. I bet this recipe would work with garlic scapes too. I will pick up fresh scallions from the green market this weekend but I know I won't be able to control myself. I am going to finish the scallions with Maldon salt.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you, David—I hope you loved the scallions.
Moo June 24, 2020
We grill them, sprinkle with lime and sea salt. The best!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Steve June 24, 2020
I might sprinkle some parmigiana on it. Not much.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Sounds good!
Steve V. June 24, 2020
I miss ramps. We also have garlic chives running rampant. Will try same technique.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Sounds great!
AlwaysLookin June 24, 2020
Sorry, I LOVE the 'FUNK' flavor of raw Green Onions ... I grew up with a Southern Pappy, Nuff said.
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Fair point—sweet, cooked scallions are just a different animal!
Janet June 24, 2020
This looks delicious. In the summer I’m always looking for dishes that won’t heat up the kitchen too much.
Does anyone know if these could be made ahead of time for a potluck? How would they taste at room temperature?
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Hi Janet, I'm sorry for the delay, and I'm not sure—as it cools, any lingering butter will firm up a bit, so I might consider using olive (or another oil) if serving them at cooler room temperatures, which will change the flavor a bit but would still be lovely.
Andrea D. June 24, 2020
A perfectly delicious recipe, and a perfectly charming video. Kristen's daughter is a star!
Kristen M. July 13, 2020
Thank you, Andrea!