Just as frost is a harbinger of winter, so chives herald the arrival of spring.
Winter has been so mild this year that our chives, which inhabit a variety of pots on the sunny front veranda, suddenly took off at the end of July.
As the hollow stems (they are actually leaves) shot up, I thought of the delights that lay ahead: chivey mashed potatoes, chickpea and chive fritters, pea and chive risotto and new potatoes with lemon and chive butter, not to mention dressings and dips.
The pleasure of chives for the home cook is that of subtlety. Who could not love their mild flavour, reminiscent of onions but without the punch? For this reason they are the herb of choice with egg dishes; a few stems finely snipped over scrambled eggs, say, is surely the perfect marriage.
As the Chinese discovered 5000 years ago, this hardy perennial is easy to grow. The clump will thicken each spring; it is a good idea to separate it every two years. Cut clumps frequently (with scissors) during spring and summer to encourage regrowth.
To make a tangy dip, beat 200 grams of softened cream cheese with an electric whisk, then beat in one tablespoon of horseradish sauce (available in jars at the supermarket), salt and white pepper and the juice of half a lemon. Stir in 4 Tbsp finely chopped chives and 200g finely chopped smoked salmon. Serve, with drinks, on water biscuits or mini-toasts.
Chive mash couldn't be easier. Boil your usual quantity of peeled floury potatoes (eg agria, red rascal) in plenty of salted water until tender. Drain well and mash to the desired texture with hot (not boiled) milk, a generous knob of butter, and salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in a bunch of snipped chives.
Keep warm while you cook the meat; we love this mash with chicken-and-tarragon sausages and peas, or pork chops braised with sage, apple and cider and a side of green beans.
I must admit I was a tad doubtful about today's recipe, kindly sent by a friend. Cheese and cabbage? But it is a winner and perfect family fare. It would be terrific on a picnic with a ham and asparagus quiche, or try it with grilled meats at your next barbecue.
CHIVE AND CHEESE COLESLAW (serves 4-6)
1 white or savoy cabbage
2 carrots, coarsely grated
1 tart apple, peeled and chopped
red onion, thinly sliced
100g mature cheddar, grated
3 Tbsp whole-egg mayonnaise
3 Tbsp natural low-fat yoghurt
2-3 tsp Dijon mustard
1 bunch or 20g pack chives, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method: Cut cabbage in half, then into quarters; remove and discard core.
Thinly shred cabbage and put into a large mixing bowl.
Add the carrot, apple, onion, cheese, mayonnaise, yoghurt and mustard.
Snip in the chives.
Mix coleslaw thoroughly, making sure every bit of salad is coated in the dressing.
Season, then cover and chill until needed.
If preparing the coleslaw a few hours before serving, toss the chopped apple in lemon juice to prevent it discolouring.
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