A brief guide to chives and their culinary and medicinal properties.
Chives are grass-like in appearance and are the smallest member of the onion family. They are related to onions, shallots, garlic and leeks and contain many of the same properties.
Chives are mainly cultivated for culinary purposes and are especially popular with egg and cheese dishes.
History of chives
Marco Polo has been credited with bringing chives back to Europe from China, some time in the Middle Ages, which is when they became popular and widely cultivated. However, there is evidence to show that the ancient Chinese used chives for culinary and medicinal purposes long before.
As well as using chives in their cooking, Europeans used to tie them up in bunches and hang them around the house. They believed that chives had magical qualities that kept evil forces and spirits away and prevented the occupants of the household from falling ill.
Although the chive plant is the mildest member of the onion family, chives are still an excellent source of Vitamins A and C. They also contain smaller quantities of Vitamins B1 and B2, as well as calcium, phosphorous and iron.
The benefits of chives
All members of the onion family contain high levels of sulphur compounds, which are actually highly beneficial for the circulation of blood around the body, which keeps blood pressure low. Other healing properties of chives include:
- They are beneficial to the respiratory system.
- They aid digestion and help to digest fatty foods such as cheese.
- They are good for tiredness and fatigue.
- Chives act as a diuretic and can reduce obesity and fluid retention.
- Chives are said to stimulate the appetite.
- Research has shown that the risk of prostate cancer may be reduced by 50%.
Fresh is the best
Unlike some kinds of herbs, chives lose their taste and flavour when dried, therefore, it is best to use chives when they are fresh.
They can be snipped with scissors and added to all kinds of dishes, hot or cold.
Ideas for cooking with chives
Chives are usually used on their own to flavour certain foods, however the French, particularly, combine chives with fresh parsley, chervil and tarragon to make what they call "fines herbes", which they add to all types of dishes. Below are a few ideas on how to use chives in the kitchen:
- Sprinkle over salads or add to sandwiches.
- Add to scrambled eggs during cooking.
- Mix with cottage cheese to eat with a jacket potato.
- Add to mayonnaise or garlic mayonnaise.
- Mix into sandwich spreads or cream cheese.
- Add to plain yoghurt and use as a dressing for salad.
- Add to melted butter for a sauce for grilled fish or poultry.
- Sprinkle over soups or stews.
- Add to sauces near the end of cooking.
- Add to mashed potato or omelettes.
- Add to the raw mixture of homemade beef burgers and croquettes.
Three chive recipes including Vichyssoise, the French cold soup classic, prawn and chive tartlets and chive mashed potato.
Cheesy Mashed Potatoes with Chives
If you want to liven up plain mashed potatoes, just add some cream cheese and chives. Try the following recipe.
- 4 medium sized potatoes
- ½ a carton of cream cheese (e.g.: Philadelphia)
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup of freshly chopped chives
- 1 tbsp of butter
- salt and pepper
- Wash, peel and quarter the potatoes.
- Fill a saucepan with water, add salt and bring to the boil. Add the chopped potatoes and boil for about 15 minutes or until they are soft but not falling apart.
- Remove the pan from the heat and drain the potatoes.
- Return the potatoes to the pan but not to the heat. Add the cream cheese, milk and the butter and mash all of the ingredients together, making sure there are no lumps.
- Stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.
This is a classic French soup made from potatoes and leeks, which is usually served chilled. Although chives do not feature in the soup, they always feature as a garnish and the soup would not be complete without them.
- 12 oz (340 g) of finely sliced leeks
- 15 fl oz (425 ml) of vegetable stock
- 10 fl oz (285 ml) of milk
- 4 oz (115 g) of peeled and diced potatoes
- 2 oz (55 g) of butter
- 1 chopped onion
- 4 tbsp of cream
- splash of white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- salt and pepper
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-high heat.
- Reduce the heat and add the chopped onion and leeks. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened.
- Add the diced potatoes, stock, bay leaf and splash of wine and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan with a lid. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool considerably. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
- Season the soup and then transfer to a blender or liquidiser. Blend until the liquid is smooth.
- Return the soup to the saucepan and stir in the milk and cream. Check the seasoning.
- Chill the soup in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
- Serve into individual bowls and garnish with freshly snipped chives. Alternatively, if you prefer, this soup can be eaten hot and only needs to be warmed up.
Prawn and Chive Tartlets
These delicious little shellfish mini-tartlets are ideal for appetizers, party food or even a special treat to yourself.
- 12 oz (340 g) of plain flour
- 6 oz (170 g) of butter
- 3 oz (85 g) of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 lightly beaten eggs
- 3 tbsp of ice cold water
- For the filling
- 8 oz (225 g) of chopped cooked and shelled prawns
- ¼ pint (140 ml) of double cream
- 3 tbsp of chopped fresh chives
- 1 beaten egg
- pinch of saffron strands
- salt and pepper
- If you have a food processor at home, place the flour, butter and Parmesan cheese inside and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (this can also be done by rubbing the same ingredients together in a mixing bowl).
- Add the 2 eggs and the iced water and process until the mixture transforms to a ball of dough.
- Wrap the pastry dough in cling film and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to chill.
- Sprinkle a little flour over a large clean surface and thinly roll out the dough. Using a 2-inch pastry cutter cut out 60 mini-tartlet rounds and place each one neatly inside a tartlet tin.
- Prick the bases of the pastry tartlets with a fork and then chill in the fridge for a further 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the trays from the fridge and place in the preheated oven. Cook for 10 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown in colour.
- In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the egg, double cream, saffron and chives and season with salt and pepper.
- Remove the pastry tartlets from the oven and ¾ fill each pastry case with some chopped prawns.
- Top each filled pastry case with a teaspoonful of the cream and chive mixture.
- Return to the oven and bake for between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and garnish with a few chopped chives.