Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Growing Chives & a Recipe for Herbed Yogurt Cheese


Happy chives growing in my kitchen garden.

You can't go wrong with chives. They're well-mannered and friendly and get along splendidly with everything. They're the garden's equivalent of the perfect party guest: dependable and diplomatic, able to liven up even the most humble gathering. They are easy to grow and easy to harvest.

A single clump of chives, happily soaking up sun in the ground or in a pot, is adequate for home culinary use, but why stop there? Orderly rows of chive plants add grace and charm to any garden, be it a sprawling vegetable patch or formal herb bed.

Chives are the ideal plant for the lazy or time-pressed gardener, for once established, they require little maintenance, and it's practically impossible to kill them. They will endure hot, dry, humid summers with nary a droop and are hardy to Zone 3.

Pests virtually ignore them (as they do all members of the allium family), and they're even said to discourage harmful insects, including aphids and mites, from attacking nearby plants. Chives are a welcome addition to the organic garden.

Dormant in winter, chives will renew your sense of hope each year as their tiny green shoots poke out of the ground at the first hint of warmer temperatures.

In early spring, while most perennials are still shaking off their winter sleep, your already verdant chive rows will be busy transforming themselves into cheerful masses of showy, lavender-pink globes that will delight your color-starved eyes and draw scores of grateful bees to your otherwise lackluster garden.

Go Green To Save Money - Growing Your Own Fresh Herbs (2)
Extending the chive border in one of my (falling apart) raised beds with both divided and purchased plants.

Inexpensive chive plants are widely available at nurseries and garden centers, and they can also be started fairly easily from seed. I sow seeds indoors in February or March. Once they have sprouted (this may take up to three weeks), I place them in individual plugs and move them into the unheated, homemade greenhouse or outdoors, depending on the weather.

When the seedlings are several inches high, they're transplanted into the garden. I've been told that it can take a few years for chive plants to mature and bloom, but this has not been my experience. Seedlings planted in late spring were covered with flowers the following year.

Another option is to swipe some chive bulbs from a friend's garden and relocate them to yours. This will actually benefit both of you, as chives should be dug up and divided every three years. The best time to do this is in late summer or early fall, so start scouting around now for likely prospects.

The dividing process is simple. Water the chives a few hours before you begin. Then use scissors to snip them back to about four inches in height. Carefully dig them up and separate each clump into smaller clumps of three or four plants each.

Replant these smaller clumps 1/2 inch deeper than they were growing before in a spot that will receive at least six hours of sun a day. They should be spaced four inches apart in the garden, or you can plant one or more clumps in a pot. Water them well and watch them grow.

Taking care of chive plants is a cinch: I fertilize with sheep manure, mulch thickly with hay or grass clippings to discourage weeds, and remove spent blooms. Harvesting individual stems requires nothing more than a pair of scissors (I love these Fiskars take-apart kitchen and garden shears).

To extend your chive harvest, snip off the flower buds as soon as they appear.

If your perfect party guest is truly perfect, they should also be able to keep you company while you are in the kitchen, and this is certainly true of chives. Once you discover the hundreds of uses for chives, you'll wonder how you ever survived without them. Their mild onion flavor perks up everything from chicken salad to quesadillas.



One of my favorite ways to celebrate chives is in these easy to make Savory Chive and Sharp Cheddar Cheese Scones.

Chives even make food look better, too. Like a beautiful strand of pearls, a sprinkle of freshly-snipped chives will add instant sophistication to almost anything: a serving of mashed potatoes, a platter of stir-fried vegetables, even plain old scrambled eggs.

Your meals will begin to look as if they came out of a fashionably chic cafe. For a truly elegant touch, toss some of the edible, peppery blossoms into your salad, or float a few atop bowls of spinach soup.

Maintaining your new culinary style throughout the winter months is simply a matter of putting a few cups of chopped chives into an airtight container and sticking it in the freezer. The pieces will freeze individually, enabling you to pull out only a pinch or two whenever you need it.

Agreeable and compatible, chives are at their best when mingling with other herbs. One of the nicest ways to take advantage of this is to make herbed yogurt cheese.

Yogurt cheese is simply unflavored yogurt that has had most of the whey drained from it. It's a tasty, healthy alternative to cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, or butter, and can even be made with nonfat yogurt. Once you try it, you will probably be hooked. Best of all, it's extremely easy to make.

You can make yogurt cheese by putting yogurt in several layers of cheesecloth or in a paper coffee filter set in a mesh strainer and then placing them over a dish to drain into, but these methods can be messy.

For many years I used a pair of inexpensive plastic yogurt strainers that look like cone-shaped coffee filters, but a while back I bought a handy dandy yogurt cheese maker and am so glad I did. It's neat and simple and well worth the $17 investment, especially if you make yogurt cheese on a regular basis. It's easy to use, easy to clean, and has a nice tight lid for storing in the fridge.

The best yogurt cheese is of course made from organic homemade yogurt, which is also a snap to prepare: You heat some milk, mix in a heaping tablespoon of yogurt, pour it into little glass jars, and plug in the yogurt maker. My yogurt maker (which I snapped up brand new at a yard sale for a dollar) is so old it's no longer made, but the Euro Cuisine YM80 looks similar and makes seven 6-ounce jars at a time. These days there are all kinds of home yogurt makers available.

I don't use special starters or add powdered milk or do anything fancy when I make yogurt. I simply use a little bit of the last batch as a starter for the next. Every once in a while I buy a container of organic plain yogurt and use some of it for the starter to refresh the cultures.

You don't need a recipe to make herbed yogurt cheese. Just chop up whatever fresh herbs you happen to have around (I like to combine basil, oregano, parsley, and chives) and stir them into some yogurt cheese along with a splash of balsamic vinegar and some good salt and pepper. The amount of herbs you use is entirely a matter of taste. My philosophy is More, more, more.

When you think there will be more herbs than yogurt, that's probably enough. I recently made some of this for a friend who loves it, and on a whim I stirred in a container of cottage cheese. She pronounced the result even more delicious than the original version. The other day I discovered a container of ricotta in the fridge and mixed that in. It was very nice.

You will quickly find dozens of uses for this delightful concoction. You can spread it on toasted baguette slices and then stick them under the broiler for a minute or two. You can put it on a bagel along with thin slices of vine-ripened, heirloom tomatoes or serve it in a pretty dish alongside a plate of your favorite crackers.

It makes a marvelous dip for nearly any fresh vegetable (my favorites are carrots, cucumbers, and sweet red peppers). You can even slip some into an omelette.

It's a wonderful thing to bring to a potluck party or to a friend you're visiting for lunch. Just be sure to pack it in a container you don't mind parting with; I've never had anyone offer to give leftover herbed yogurt cheese back.

© FarmgirlFare.com, freshly snipped and dipped.

8 comments:

  1. "If your perfect party guest is truly perfect, they should also be able to keep you company while you are in the kitchen, and this is certainly true of chives."

    I don't know what I love more--your charming articles or your beautiful photos. Wonderful article!

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  2. only you and your photos and knowing that you tand these green shoots with love and affection could make me like them.

    They have been overused in so many kitchens I've worked in as "color" but little else that I have grown to despise them.

    but I did find them in a well taken care of garden in the middle of an area of Manhattan that has been ravaged by poverty, (photos will soon appear on eggbeater), and I said to my father, look!, took a tiny bit and put it in his mouth. they are beautiful.

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  3. You are right about the hardiness of chives. At our former house, I found some growing in the shady woods. Transplanted them to the garden. I gave little plants to everyone in my office (oregano, too), and brought some with me to our new house, where they felt right at home. We like to snip them into scrambled eggs. I just found your blog, and it's a joy for a food and gardening and writing person like me.

    For the 2nd year in a row, the tomato growing in the Boston area seems to be the pits. I hate to give up. Do they hate to grow alongside dill, cilantro, sage and oregano? The dill and cilantro reseed themselves every year. Sage and oregano are huge. Could that be the problem?

    Thanks!

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  4. I absolutely love your site! You are simply an inspiration to my little homestead here in Central Florida.

    Although I have gardened for decades, first by necessity; now by choice, you give a new look and a charming explanation to everything that I hold near and dear.

    Continued blessings~

    Mama T

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  5. I have planted some chives in a pot from seed. The seedlings are coming up and are about 4" tall, however, they seem fragile and skinny. Will they get fatter and more stable?

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  6. Hi Grapeshot,
    So glad you found and are enjoying my blog. I love chives in scrambled eggs, too. As for your tomato/herb questions, I covered that in an email to you back in July (though I really should hunt it down and copy it here in case other people have the same questions.) Hope it helped! : )

    Hi Mama T,
    I'm a wee bit late on the reply here, and I know you've left comments since this one, but I didn't want to just skip right over you. : ) Thanks for all your kind words.

    Hi Anonymous,
    Two immediate things come to mind: soil quality and light. If the chives aren't getting enough sun (are they indoors?) they (and all other seedlings) will grow tall and spindly in the hopes that they get closer to the sun. If the soil isn't very rich, the chives might just be starving for some nutrients. Compost, compost tea, manure, manure tea, fish emulsion, and kelp are all wonderful organic soil amendments. Of course some of these are quite odorous if your chives are indoors. : )

    What you also might try is snipping them off to about 1-inch high. That will force more energy into the root system which will hopefully in turn give you stronger chives above ground. In any case, it won't harm the plants, and you'll get a very early little harvest!

    Hope this helps! Best of luck to you.

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  7. Funny I made Herbed Yogurt/Cheese few days after you, but used a totally different technique that ended up with different looking product but no special equipment needed other then cheese cloth.
    Check it out: http://polwig.com/cooking/herbed-greek-yogurt-cheese-3/

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  8. I'm a bit late to the party, but I want you to know that my grandma gave me some chives from her garden when we bought our first house in 1967. After more than forty years and through three moves, I still have chives which are descended from those my grandma gave me. The ones I'm growing now live in a large container with five other varieties of herbs on the balcony of our fourth floor condo (western exposure) here in suburban Minneapolis. The homes of my son and daughter in law as well as my daughter and son in law both have clumps of Grandma's chives growing in their yards. My dear Grandma is long gone, but the chives live on, and my heart is warmed whenever I catch sight of them.

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