Let’s hear it for spring onions
According to the calendar, spring began when the vernal equinox came March 20. For those of you who may not be astronomically inclined, equinox comes from the Latin and means “equal night.” On Thursday, the length of our daylight hours and our nighttime hours were approximately the same.
As we move through spring, half the planet will have shorter, colder days, while our half will enjoy longer, warmer days. This change of season brings balmier weather, a return of migrating birds and the welcome appearance of new green growth.
While many of us notice the first flowers to emerge - crocus, hyacinth, snowdrops - kitchen gardeners among us celebrate the first herbs and vegetables to appear - the alliums. These are a family of flowering plants named after the Latin word for garlic, which is part of the group. Familiar foods among the alliums include chives, leeks, green onions, onions, shallots and garlic.
All of these share a similar flavor profile (oniony and garlicky to lesser and greater degrees of intensity) and a few physical features. Garlic, shallots and onions are all prized for their dense, layered bulbs, covered in papery skin. Leeks have the appearance of bulky green onions (which are also called scallions), both with a white base and green stems. Chives are their skinny cousins, with hollow stems and a softer flavor.
Because of their similarities but different sizes and strengths, each allium needs to be selected based on its unique characteristics. Onions, leeks, shallots and garlic will add sharp notes to a baked dish; these will become mellower in a simmered or braised dish. Despite their small size, green onions can bring strong onion notes to either cooked or raw dishes.
Chives are the most delicate of the alliums and are rarely cooked for any length of time. They’re best added at the very last minute to a hot dish and are often tossed on as a garnish for deviled eggs, salads and soups. Select chives that aren’t wilted or browning, and make sure they have a bright aroma. To use chives, snip them with scissors or a very sharp knife into tiny circles.
Earlier this week, a patch of our herb garden was bright green with the slender stems of chives emerging from the mulch.
As I planned to write this column about chives, I didn’t visit the grocery: my supply of ingredients was steps away from the front door. Unfortunately, a surprise snowstorm buried them.
So, as the plows salted the roads and my neighbors shoveled their driveways, I was out with a rake and a broom, clearing the snow from my chives. A few were slightly frozen, but enough were in fine shape and I was able to make the feta and chive omelet in the photo (shown just before it was folded in half). This was a delicious combination - salty feta, tender eggs and just enough bite from the chives.
Another recipe to feature chives is a pesto you can assemble without waiting for the new crop of basil to be ready. This is a delicious garnish for a bowl of tomato soup, a topping for baked potatoes or a tasty sauce for hot pasta. The cool combination of sour cream and chives makes a delicious dressing for sliced cucumbers or an addition to whipped or mashed potatoes. The final recipe here snips chives into a lemon-bright dressing for a quinoa salad. Welcome spring!
Feta & Chive Omelet
1 t unsalted butter
1 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 T snipped chives
pepper, to taste
Melt butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Whisk eggs until completely blended and foamy. Pour eggs into skillet, and as the edges cook, push them toward the center. When eggs are almost done, but still glossy and wet, sprinkle with feta and chives. Fold omelet in half and cook until set. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Yield: 2 servings.
3 C chopped fresh chives
1 C chopped parsley
2 oz slivered almonds
2 garlic cloves
3/4 C shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 C olive oil
Combine the chives, parsley, almonds and garlic into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until all ingredients are minced. Add the cheese and pulse a few more times to incorporate. With the blades spinning, pour in olive oil to create a smooth paste. Yield: 1 1/2 C pesto.
Cucumber Chive Salad
2 English cucumbers
1/2 C chilled sour cream
2 T snipped fresh chives
salt & pepper, to taste
Slice cucumbers with a mandoline into paper-thin rounds. Place them in a colander to drain, if needed. In a serving bowl, mix together sour cream and chives. Add sliced cucumber and toss gently to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 T olive oil
5 sliced green onions
2 C vegetable stock
1 C quinoa
1/2 C snipped chives
2 T olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T toasted pine nuts (optional)
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add green onion and sauté, stirring often, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Stir in quinoa, cover and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. In a serving bowl, whisk together chives, olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Add quinoa and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with toasted pine nuts (optional). Yield: 4 servings.