During the first spring I spent at my Pennsylvania farm some 24 years ago, a clump of chives emerged beneath my kitchen’s bay window. With my garden in its infancy, I was excited about having fresh chives on hand. Yet it wasn’t long before that clump, which I later transplanted to the site of my present herb garden, multiplied to the point that it became a veritable weed. Because I had allowed its lavender flower heads to mature naturally, they set seed – seed that self-sowed and grew into new plants everywhere!
In the years since, I have made it a habit to divide such prolific perennial herbs and give them away to friends wishing to start their own herb gardens. And, to help control chives’s proclivity to self-sow, I try to cut flowers well before they turn to seed, using the edible blossoms in recipes and in floral arrangements.
The type of chives I found beneath my windowsill so long ago was Allium schoenoprasum. Sometimes known as onion chives for the mild onion flavor they possess, these are the more common variety, identified by leaves that grow 12 to 18 inches high. Globe-shaped lavender flower heads form in late spring.
The other chive variety, called garlic chives, Chinese leeks, or Oriental garlic (A. tuberosum), tastes mildly like garlic. Though it is a perennial – and my mother grew it as such in her Arizona garden – this herb rarely survives the cold winters Pennsylvania has to offer. With large, flat, grasslike leaves, garlic chives have flower heads that open in summer to reveal white star-shaped flowers. Cultivated for centuries in China and India, this variety is widely grown in tropical Asia and commercially in Southern California. Two cultivars are commonly grown – one is called ‘Broadleafed’ and the other is named ‘Chinese Leek Flower’. The green leaves of garlic chives are used for seasoning, as are those of common chives. If the leaves are covered by soil during cultivation, they turn yellow, or “blanch.” Considered a delicacy by Chinese cooks, blanched chives are often stir-fried in vegetarian dishes or mixed with meat in dumplings.
Chive leaves contribute flavor to soups, salads, entrees – just about any dish that would be enhanced by onion, especially eggs. The edible flowers, when added to salads and cream cheese, contribute a touch of color, crunchy texture, and a hint of onion flavor. Onion chive blossoms bottled in white-wine vinegar turn it into a pale-lavender infusion. The flowers become fibrous as they grow old, so select young blossoms for culinary use. I often include mature chive blossoms in fresh flower arrangements and always dry some for use later in everlasting bouquets.
Unlike onion chives, which can be found in most large produce markets and well-stocked grocery stores, Asian markets are the most common outlet for garlic chives. There you will often find bundles of pale-yellow blanched garlic chives sold alongside the fresh green variety with their unopened flower buds. Garlic chives are most often incorporated into stir-fried dishes, tossed with noodles, or added to soups.
In the garden, chive plants serve as attractive perennial borders. From spring to fall, from one season to the next, you can harvest chives to use fresh or freeze them to use later. Whether homegrown or store-bought, this perennial herb has become a favorite of cooks everywhere.
SALMON WITH CHIVE CREAM SAUCE AND ASPARAGUS
Salmon is sliced thin to resemble cutlets in this quickly cooked entree, which pairs the fish with fresh asparagus and a creamy chive-flavored sauce.
1 1 1/4-pound center-cut piece salmon fillet (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick) 1/2 teaspoon salt 12 slender stalks asparagus 2 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup dry white wine 2/3 cup water 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives 1/2 cup nonfat sour cream
1. Place salmon, skin side down, on work surface. With sharp knife placed crosswise on salmon about 2 inches from one end and held almost parallel to surface, cut flesh almost horizontally toward the end to yield eight 1/4-inch-thick slices off the skin. Discard skin. Sprinkle salmon slices with 1/4 teaspoon salt; set aside.
2. Heat oven to 250 [degrees] F. Break or trim asparagus to 5-inch-long spears, discarding ends. If desired, with vegetable peeler, remove tough skin from lower half of each asparagus spear. In large nonstick skillet, heat 1/4 inch water to boiling over high heat. Add asparagus and cook just until crisp-tender. Drain asparagus and transfer to ovenproof plate; cover and keep warm.
3. In same skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add salmon, half at a time, and cook until firm and lightly browned on each side. As slices brown, transfer to ovenproof plate. Cover with aluminum foil and keep warm in oven. Repeat with remaining butter and salmon slices.
4. Add wine to skillet and heat to boiling, stirring to dislodge browned-on bits. Add water and 1/2 cup chives to skillet; heat to boiling. Remove skillet from heat and whisk in sour cream and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt until mixed.
5. Pour chive mixture in blender and blend until smooth and green. Divide sauce among plates, spreading to an even layer. Place 2 salmon slices, overlapping each other, on top of sauce and sprinkle with some of remaining 1 tablespoon chives. Arrange 3 asparagus spears alongside salmon and serve.
Note: Other flavorful salmon recipes that cooks can prepare with ease are available in a brochure produced by Salmon Marketers International, a group representing salmon producers from Washington State, Chile, British Columbia, Scotland, New Brunswick, and Norway. To request a free packet of salmon information including recipes, call (800) 378-4121.
Nutrition information per serving – protein: 31 grams; fat: 15 grams; carbohydrate: 7 grams; fiber: .8 gram; sodium: 439 milligrams; cholesterol: 99 milligrams; calories: 303.
STIR-FRIED CHICKEN, GARLIC CHIVES, AND PEA PODS
The mild garlic flavor of garlic chives enhances rather than overwhelms the main components of this dish. Cooked white or brown rice makes a fine accompaniment.
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth 2 tablespoons dry sherry 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 teaspoon sesame oil 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces 2 cups 1-inch-cut garlic chives and their unopened blossoms 1/4 pound snow pea pods, ends and strings removed
1. Prepare sauce: In 1-cup measuring cup or small bowl, combine broth, sherry, soy sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, and red pepper; set aside.
2. Heat wok or large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl it around to coat pan. Add half of chicken and cook until well browned on one side – about 3 minutes. Turn chicken pieces and brown other side – about 2 minutes. Transfer browned chicken to a bowl. Repeat to brown other half of chicken with remaining oil and transfer to bowl. Reduce heat to medium.
3. In same pan, stir-fry chives 1 minute. Add pea pods and stir-fry 1 minute. Restir sauce and pour over vegetables. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, until thickened. Return chicken and its juices to pan; cook until heated through. Transfer to serving plate. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving – protein: 19 grams; fat: 10 grams; carbohydrate: 10 grams; fiber: 2 grams; sodium: 366 milligrams; cholesterol: 48 milligrams; calories: 200.
Whether served for brunch or lunch, these are best eaten fresh from the oven, while they are still hot and crisp.
1/2 cup nonfat sour cream 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives 1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard 2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled 2 large eggs 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. In small bowl, combine sour cream, 2 tablespoons chives, and the mustard. Cover and refrigerate sour-cream sauce until ready to serve (if necessary, drain any moisture that accumulates).
2. Into large bowl, coarsely grate potatoes and mix in 1/2 cup chives, the eggs, flour, salt, and pepper.
3. Heat oven to 375 [degrees] F. In large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add one-eighth of potato mixture to skillet and flatten to 3-inch round. Make 2 more pancakes. Cook pancakes until golden brown on bottom – about 5 minutes. Turn pancakes over and cook until undersides brown – about 3 minutes longer. Transfer pancakes to baking sheet. Repeat to make 5 more pancakes.
4. Bake pancakes 10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve immediately with sour-cream sauce.
Nutrition information per pancake with sauce – protein: 5 grams; fat: 7 grams; carbohydrate: 30 grams; fiber: 2 grams; sodium: 199 milligrams; cholesterol: 56 milligrams; calories: 197.