Chives have a mild sweet onion flavour with just a hint of garlic about them. They’re a standout with sizzling butter in omelettes and fish dishes, but don’t fry them, add them at the end of cooking. They make a classic topping for soups, but try them tucked inside cheese toasties, on soft-boiled eggs, mixed with labna (drained yoghurt) and spread on crusty bread, and in a tomato salad instead of basil.
Should you chop or snip? Chives are like blades of grass, but they are hollow, and chopping them with a knife flattens them and makes them moist. Snipping with scissors is the answer. Like onions, they oxidise once cut, so snip just before using. And if taking them from a plant, snip the leaves right down to the base.
They’re easy to grow and like a sunny spot, but I find on Waiheke they grow best in a semi-sunny spot because they can droop in very hot sun, and they are always thirsty! In my garden they grow well threaded through rockeries, or in leafy mulch under trees, and favour a light organic free-draining soil. They will grow well in a pot, but don’t let them dry out or they will wilt and wither. Chives act as a deterrent to aphids, so let them self-seed throughout the garden, but if they are a little too rampant, dig them up and plant somewhere else – or play pass-the-parcel and wrap in newspaper and give them to friends to plant in their gardens.
The mauve-coloured flowers bring bees to the garden and they’re particularly pretty scattered over a salad or omelette.
Now is the time to start off chive seeds – a packet of seeds will give you chives for your neighbourhood! Plant them out in spring.
Garlic chives are also part of the onion family, but they differ to common chives, having flat leaves, and being particularly pungent. Snip or cut and thread through rice dishes or omelettes or use as you would chives.