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As I write, there is still a mound of dirty snow in the far corner of our garden. That's the cold zone. On the other side, at the base of a sunny south-west wall, spring has sprung with its first glorious flavour—chives.

I love chives. There is a mix of onion and garlic in the flavour. Chives look like long grass and have a little of the sweetness of young grass. This makes them ideal for salads. I also like them because I can enjoy them fresh. They don't have the strong acidity of fresh garlic or the harsh bite of a raw onion. Garlic and onion become mellower and sweeter as they are cooked but chives taste great just clipped from the garden.

Chives are part of the onion family. They should not be confused with scallions or spring onions which grow long, hollow stems and have a more pronounced flavour. Chives are also distinct from shallots which resemble small onions and are very bitter raw but divine when cooked.

We are fortunate to have both the European and Asian variety of chives regularly available. The European has smaller, more delicate dark green leaves that look like long, thin grass. That is the kind most of us see and use. It grows abundantly in our garden and is often found wild. The Asian variety is often called garlic chives. It is known in Chinese markets as gau choi. These are larger and longer and have a small white bulb at the top. They are delicious steamed.

Many dishes do call for chives—the French word for chives is civette and a civet is a dish of game, usually hare, cooked with plenty of chives—but I like them best fresh, chopped into cream cheese, added to scrambled eggs, spooned with sour cream into a baked potato, or sprinkled over soup or noodles just before serving.

© Barry Lazar 2001 Email Flavourguy

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