Friday, July 20, 2007

CHIVES: This garlic-flavored herb was once used to treat blood poisoning but now is now used mostly as a flavoring agent in cooking.

Native to the northern hemisphere, chives once grew wild throughout Eurasia, from Siberia to Corsica, and in North America as far south as the Great Lakes. Thousands of years ago, Chinese herbalists recommended eating raw chives as an antidote for poison and to control excessive bleeding.

The Romans cooked with chives, which are mentioned in the famous cookbook of Apicius. Eventually chives caught on in the rest of Europe, and were popular in 16th century gardens. This perennial member of the onion family was used to flavor soups, eggs, cheese, and salads. Bunches of chives were hung in old world homes to ward off evil spirits.

Chives made their way into American gardens before 1806. Dutch settlers in America planted chives in their cow pastures to create chive-flavored milk.

The two most common types of chives are Allium schoenoprasum and Allium tuberosum, also known as garlic chives. The mild onion-flavored Allium schoenoprasum have slender, two-foot high tube-shaped leaves and purple, clover-like flowers. Allium tuberosum have narrow flat leaves with star-shaped white flowers and a garlicky taste.

Chives' main use is culinary, as a flavoring or garnish. The French consider chives a necessity in fine herbs, a mixture of equal parts parsley, tarragon, chives, and chervil - all fresh, of course. Fine herbs flavor savory sauces and soups, and when added at the last minute of cooking, release their essential oils, but retain their freshness.

Sprinkle chives on salads, vegetables, and potatoes, and use in cheese and egg dishes for a mild onion or garlic flavor. They are especially good in cottage cheese. Chive blossoms can also be eaten - toss them into salads, chilled soups, and marinated vegetables. Chives are best used fresh, but can be dried or frozen as well.

All members of the Allium genus contain sulfur, some iron and vitamins (chives are especially high in vitamin C), and are a mild antibiotic. They also contain the phytochemical allicin, which may help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and prevent certain types of cancer. Chives sprinkled on food stimulate the appetite, promote digestion, and can also serve as a mild laxative.

Even folks with brown thumbs can grow chives. Although the easiest method is to buy small plants from a nursery, they can also be started from seed, or by dividing the roots from an older clump. Individual bulbs should be planted five inches apart in full sun or light shade in rich, moist soil. A mixture of two parts garden or potting soil, two parts peat, one part sand, and one part compost works quite well.

When cutting chives often for use, enrich the soil monthly. Chives are evergreen in mild regions, but go dormant where winters are severe. Clumps can be grown indoors in winter, to provide fresh leaves for cooking. They need at least six hours of sun a day.

Chives make excellent companion plants for fruit trees, vegetables, and flowers. Prevent apple scab by planting chives around the base of apple trees or watering them with chive tea. (Made by pouring boiling water over dried chives, steeping for fifteen minutes, and diluting with two parts water).

The attractive chive plant makes a lovely edging for a flower border or herb garden. The plants blend well with other herbs such as mint and sage. Chive blossoms can be used as cut flowers and can be dried for arrangements.

Tofu-Chive Potato Topping

Creamy tofu tastes terrific with chives. Pulse briefly for a speckled appearance, or blend longer to produce a beautiful pale green hue. Use it as a great dip for crisp vegetables.

8 ounces soft (not silken) tofu
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped chives
Salt and pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine tofu, oil, and lemon juice, process until smooth. Add chives and pulse to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 1 cup.

V PER TABLESPOON: 26 CAL, (72% from fat), 1g PROT, 2g FAT, 1g CARB, 0mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0g FIBER

Caponata with Chives

Here's the latest tasty variation of the ever-popular Sicilian side dish.

1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped (about 4 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped chives

1. Place chopped eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Set aside to drain on a plate or in the sink, for about 1 hour.

2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, sauté onion in oil, stirring frequently, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and celery and sauté for 2 minutes more.

3. With hands, squeeze moisture from chopped eggplant and add to the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until eggplant is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

4. Stir in tomatoes, vinegar, and chives. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups.

V PER 1/4 CUP: 31 CAL (48% from fat), 0.4g PROT, 2g FAT, 4g CARB, 34mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 1g FIBER

Sour Cream Biscuits with Chives

Pretty flecks of chives add interest to these tender, fluffy biscuits.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup nonfat sour cream
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup chopped chives

1.Preheat oven to 425° and lightly oil a baking sheet. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Make a well in the center and add sour cream, oil, and chives. Stir until just combined.

Makes 9 biscuits.

L PER BISCUIT: 138 CAL (22% from fat), 5g PROT, 3g FAT, 22g CARB, 378mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 2g FIBER.

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