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There’s an amazing thing happening in my garden right now: my foot-square patch of chives is thriving!

My garden is headed into its third growing season. The first year, I bought a little green plastic pot of chives from a local organic nursery.  It was maybe three inches across and cost a little over $3.00–in other words, WAY LESS than two of those little plastic snap-shut rectangular boxes of fresh herbs you buy over and over at your grocery store for $1.99 each.

The first year, I mostly ignored the humble little chive plant. A few times, I snipped some to sprinkle on baked potatoes with sour cream, but I was too infatuated with the gigantic rainbow swiss chard, the  gorgeous little eggplant, and an uncontrolled explosion of multi-colored cherry tomatoes to notice what was going on over in Chive World.

The next year, the chives had probably doubled in size; there was a whole new colony to the left of the original plant, and the original was thicker and taller, and for the most part dominating any weeds which attempted to infringe on its space.  Japanese beetles and other nasty living things are not interested in chives. They apparently have no insect predators. The humble chive is STRONG, determined, and almost indestructible. 

Now it’s the third year–and I am now noticing chives in recipes EVERYWHERE.  By accident, the first post on this blog discussed a cheese and chive soufflé!  (Here’s a shot of the chives being folded into the soufflé mixture at the end.)

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It’s kind of like deciding to wear those red shoes in your closet that you keep ignoring, because nothing else you own is red, and then once you start wearing them, you suddenly notice how many people wear just a touch of one bright color.  You think, Oh, my goodness!  How could I NOT have seen this?  Red goes with everything.  And before you know it, you need another pair — and maybe some lime green sandals!

I now believe that chives, like asparagus and peas, signal spring. No wonder everyone is happy to see them. Yes! The chives are finally here! David Tanis’ New York Times recipe for King Salmon with Savory Whipped Cream (It’s seasoned with mustard, cayenne, and lemon zest–yum!) calls for a tablespoon of fresh chives to be folded into the cream.  The June issue of Cooking Light has Cucumber and Green Tomato Gazpacho (with chives), as well as  Crab-stuffed Grilled Bell Peppers (sprinkled  with chives) on the same page (120), and in the letters to the editor, someone is raving about last month’s recipe for Pork and Chive Dumplings (page 105, May issue).

In short, chives play an indispensable role in my kitchen.  They are fresh and bright and green and happy, they are useful almost everywhere, and they ask for so little in return. They cost less than a cup of good coffee. All you need to do is make sure they have some water. GO FIND SOME CHIVES. You deserve them.

Oh! and the smell! Need I say more?

OK, have fun.

And one more thing: could you let us know what herb you grow that you can’t possibly live without? And can we please hear from someone in an apartment who is successfully growing chives?

The chef’s take:

My own “garden” – consisting of three good-size planters – pales in comparison with Pat’s expansive tract.  Italian parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary…and, yes, two hardy chive plants.  A $37 investment that guarantees me ready access to herbal bliss for five months of the year!  Definitely cheaper and more convenient than relying on the produce aisle.  

While parsley remains the most versatile and essential “herbal” ingredient in my kitchen, there is something compelling about chives. Though not technically an herb – it resides with the onion, leek, scallion, shallot, and garlic clan – the chive plant’s gentle “onionness” and vibrant punch make it seem more herbal than veggie.  No surprise that grocery stores sell chives in the fresh herb section.

Some random thoughts about chives:

  •  When using chives in hot dishes, always add them toward the very end of cooking.  Their delicateness is lost when cooked too long.   Think of a gruyere or cheddar cheese omelet, or a humble scrambled egg, which can be kicked up a notch with a sprinkling of fresh cut chives.  A steaming baked potato finished with butter or sour cream and chives.  Or a garnish atop a hot bowl of potato leek soup.
  • Chives are a perfect complement to what are called “compound butters.”  Add chopped herbs – including a generous dash of minced chives – to a stick or two of room-temperature butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.  Roll up in plastic wrap, chill, and cut into slices. Top grilled salmon or chicken, roasted pork tenderloin slices.  Use to toss with cooked veggies.  The chives bring vibrancy and a depth of flavor to virtually any food.
  • I’ve always been stumped as to why printed recipes always refer to snipping chives with scissors.  It seems to me that a paring knife to harvest scallions from the plant, and a French knife to cut bundles into whatever size is required, makes a whole lot more sense than fiddling with a pair of scissors.  
  • And lastly, chives are just straight-out beautiful.  They are always a stunning garnish that enhances everything they touch.  
  • STORING FRESH HERBS: For a VERY valuable discussion about how to store fresh herbs , check out J. Kenji-Lopez-Alt’s post on Serious Eats, a blog we’re pretty impressed with.