What's in Season: Chives

Green Fresh Onion Flavor

What's in Season: Chives

Green Fresh Onion Flavor

As spring and summer arrive, I get my annual case of kitchen envy.  That's because I wish I had a garden.

I know that some of you live in brownstones and might have access to a back yard.  Or maybe you have a rooftop terrace.  Lucky you.  If you live outside the city and have a half acre, I will take no offense if you're smug about it.  I'd be, too.  I don't want to be a rival to my Greenmarket but I do wish I could grow a few things.  Some daffodils to announce spring.  A row of overgrown stakes of summer tomatoes.  And fresh herbs.

Last summer I spent a weekend cooking with friends who have a house.  For every recipe that called for herbs, I commandeered the job of taking a large bowl and kitchen shears out to the back yard where big bushes of thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and curly-leafed parsley rimmed the yard.

Prettiest among them were the chives.  I loved their dark, spikey straws and thumbprint-sized pale purple flowers.  While the bugs and the wild rabbits seemed to prefer the basil plants best of all, the spicy chives were always left alone.  They probably had a bit too much onion flavor for northern New Jersey's wildlife.

Chives aren't like other herbs in that they're not used in the cooking but instead on top of it.  But chives' appetizing deep green color and fragrant onion flavor make them a way to easily add appeal to otherwise pale or subtle food.  People who are trying to restrict their salt intake but want to have more flavor can use chives as a seasoning, plus chives have lots of vitamins A and C, potassium and calcium, although we eat so little of them that their nutritional impact is negligible.

The smallest species of the onion family, chives are native to Europe, Asia and North America and are a perennial plant that grow out of a bulb.  But unlike onions, their flavor is not in the bulb; instead it's in the long, thin straw-like hollow leaves.  Chives' mild taste means you can add onion's flavor to a dish without any of its bite.  The little purple flowers are also edible and some chefs and cooks use them as a garnish.

When a French recipe calls for the aromatic mix called "fines herbes," it's chives combined with equal parts of tarragon, chervil and parsley.  But usually we use chives on their own, as when they're sprinkled on top of a bowl of Vichyssoise.  See our recipe for this chilled leek and potato soup for which chives are an essential flavor.  But when used generously or converted into a green Chive Oil (see our recipe), chives can become a way to add appeal and taste, especially to the simple cooking that so many of us do most of the time.

Cooking With Chives


When we're in our city kitchens and challenged by the every day task of making interesting, or at least appealing meals, sometimes something as simple as a snip of chives can a big difference.  We might not all have gardens, but if a city cook can still have a steady supply of fresh herbs, it's some compensation for not having that half acre.





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