- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2005

Chives are one of those herbs that are a surprise in the garden — at least for the rest of the family.

Each spring the clever gardener stakes out the spot of their annual return, hoping to see just a hint of green when the weather starts to warm. All winter long chives lay dormant under a layer of cold snow or leaves, waiting for the warming sun to resurrect them.

One day the garden is sleeping under gray skies, the next it is jumping for joy as the tiny sprouts begin poking out of the soil.

When they emerge, it’s a clandestine operation to pick them raw and sample them on the spot. The pangs of guilt should be dismissed and replaced with the joy of nibbling that first taste of spring.

Our fingertips are cold and numb as they brush the cool spring soil with each pinch of chive. It’s easy to be discovered — one soft kiss from your significant other upon return to the house and you’re caught.

In my case, my wife gives me a look that says, “I’m disappointed in you but certainly not as much as when you disguise the fact that the asparagus is up or the early tomatoes are ready.” We have been here before.

It’s a game gardeners have played for centuries, and it’s human nature. Sure, one of the nice things about gardening is giving away the extras, but the cream of the crop is reserved for us poor souls who spread manure and tend.

We nurture the seedlings in the basement and revel at working in the cold rain, setting transplants into the soil that we have worked over years to near perfection.

Out of hibernation, these early greens are irresistible to gardeners who thrive on the spring triumvirate of garlic, onion and chives. When they appear, the chives are firmer and tastier than the mature herb we see in the stores. They should be harvested early and often. They need to be snipped at ground level then left to grow back again and again.

There isn’t an easier plant to grow. You can either buy a pot at a nursery or, better yet, get a friend to separate a chunk from his or her garden, including roots, to share.

Chives love full sun but will tolerate part shade. Early in summer they produce a beautiful and edible lavender flower that rivals the early sprouts for flavor. Pick them fresh on a tour of the garden, offering them to visitors. Pick them early in the morning before the sun has a chance to dry them out.

Chives are generally well behaved but can grow into pretty big clumps. When it starts to invade neighboring territories, dig the whole plant up and cut it in half. Give the extra plant to another gardener, find another spot in the garden, or banish it to the compost pile.

At the end of the season cut a piece of a plant off. Trim the greens down to half an inch and pot the plant for indoor growing. Find a sunny windowsill for your new plant and pick chives for your favorite recipes all winter.

In most dishes, chives are a garnish, but their fresh, onionlike flavor can work in a multitude of recipes. In my kitchen, I try to use them as fresh additive to dishes. They’re great raw in salads, adding a wonderful flavor and color. One of my favorite recipes is a simple chive omelet. I recently made a double batch for two of my teenage children, after a friend graciously gave me two dozen eggs from her chickens. Maybe I’ll share a few chives with her. Or maybe not.

Easy chive omelet

6 large eggs

1 cup of skim milk

Nonstick cooking spray

1/4 cup chopped chives

Pepper

1 clove garlic, optional

Ham, optional

Grated cheese of your choice, optional

Chopped tomatoes, optional

Chopped onion, optional

Combine eggs and milk in a blender and run at highest setting for a couple minutes until the combination is light and frothy. (If you want to have some fun and create green eggs and ham, throw the chives in when blending the eggs. If not, add them a bit later.)

Mist a nonstick frying pan with cooking spray, then heat pan to hot. Pour mixture into pan and let cook until firm over medium heat, being careful not to burn the eggs. (Lift edges as bottom cooks, and allow liquid eggs to run under and cook through.) As the eggs begin to firm, add the chives and pepper to taste.

Garlic lovers can add a small minced clove of garlic, but be careful or this will overpower the chive flavors. While eggs are cooking, feel free to add your favorite ingredients, such as ham or cheese, tomatoes or chopped onion. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Deep-fried chives

Here’s a recipe my boss gave me. Although I try to embrace the healthiest recipes, I found this one too good to deny.

Vegetable oil

10 or 15 chives, or more

Tempura batter (recipe follows)

Heat a saucepan or deep skillet containing an inch or two of oil to 350 to 375 degrees. (Take temperature with a deep-fat thermometer.) Tie a bunch of chives (maybe 10 or 15) with a string, dip in tempura batter and deep fry until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels. Repeat with more bunches of chives, if desired. Remove string before serving. Makes 2 or more servings as an appetizer.

TEMPURA BATTER:

½ cup flour

½ cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg

2/3 cup ice water

Fill 1 cup of water with ice cubes. Combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda, baking powder, sugar and salt. Beat egg slightly and mix with 2/3 cup ice water. (Measure after ice is removed.) Add dry ingredients. Stir only until mixed. Mixture will be slightly lumpy.

Smashed chive potatoes

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on

1/3 cup chopped chives, a few chives reserved for garnish

1/4 cup of good olive oil

2 tablespoons chicken broth

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and mixed pepper (red, white, black)

Cut potatoes into quarters. (Do not peel.) Boil until tender (about 15 minutes). Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Mash by hand or lightly with mixer. (Do not overmix, or else potatoes will become gluey.)

Add chives, olive oil, chicken broth and garlic, and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with chopped chives.

Makes about 4 servings.

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