Savoring the negi

An unusual onion from Pupukea

is the cook who doesn’t stock an allium or two in his or her food pantry. Garlic,
shallots, leeks, cooking onions, sweet onions, chives, garlic chives and scallions
are all alliums, encompassing a range of flavors from pungent to mild, acrid to
sweet. A unique allium, grown on O’ahu, is the negi, a giant of a green onion.

as Tokyo negi onions, since they are popular in cooking in the Tokyo area, these
long onions resemble leeks, except that leeks have flat green tops rather than
the tubular tops of negi. The scientific name for negi is Allium fistulosum, and
it is also known as the naga negi, welsh (no reference to Wales) onion or ciboule

negi is a giant of a green onion. Photo: Kent Hwang

negi is as important to Japanese cuisine as the bulbous cooking onion is to French.
The long white stem of this onion is used in nabemono, one-pot dishes such as
sukiyaki, or in kushiyaki preparations, which are skewered and grilled over an
open fire. The fragrance of the negi is distinctive, stronger than its younger
cousin, the scallion, or what we call green onions. (Scallions are, in fact, technically
younger than a green onion and show no beginnings of a bulb.) The negi adds a
sharp onion flavor to dishes, but it can be deliciously sweet in a savory way.

would seem that growing a negi is like growing a green onion, but it’s not that
simple. Püpükea farmer Ken Milner, possibly the only grower of negi onions in
Hawai’i, starts his negi from seeds in trays under a shade cloth. The young plants
are transplanted into the ground and, when they resemble pencils in size and have
begun to send off shoots, they are transplanted again in single rows, affording
them space to grow to giant scallion proportions. As they grow, the surrounding
dirt is mounded around the roots, keeping them out of the sun, to produce white
roots, while their tubular green leaves reach two to three feet into the air.

A couple of acres of grey-green leaves standing tall is a pretty sight.
“I didn’t know much about farming when I started growing negi,” says Milner, a
former commercial diver who now makes his living on terra firma. “I used to grow
leeks, but Harold Teruya at Armstrong Produce encouraged me to grow these.”

the sturdy, thick negi are pulled one by one from the ground, they immediately
release their pleasant, heady aroma. “The sandy soil, warm sunshine and warm ground
temperature stimulate growth,” says Milner. The negi are individually washed and
trimmed before delivery to markets. He produces about 300 to 400 pounds of negi
a month, along with kale, collards, oak leaf and romaine lettuces.

nabemono and kushiyaki are the traditional uses for this onion of Siberian origin,
soups and stews benefit from it, too. Negi sliced and sauteed in butter and served
on top of a thick pork chop or a grilled steak is rather delicious. Or toss it
in your next dish of pasta with some cheese-you’ll find the negi to be quite addictive.

Negi Onions
are available at Marukai and Daiei stores. Milner is one of many
vendors at the Saturday Farmers’ Market at Kapi‘olani Community College
(7:30 to 11:30 a.m.) and the new Kailua Thursday Night Market (5 to 8 p.m.) beginning
Sept. 9.