Ron Fortier of Ellsworth recently wrote to me, “With the present stay-at-home situation, I have been delegated as chief cook. I’m rapidly running out of comfort food ideas,” he said. “Please, if you have any fresh ideas, please share, lest I am forced to eat them lobstah. Don’t want to take them away from the prisoners and the poor.”
I responded, “Dear Ron: You’re saved. The lobsters aren’t crawling yet, but the herbs have started to grow.”
Since recorded history, humans have been growing and using herbs, for medicinal purposes, to ward off insects (and evil spirits), for their pleasant fragrance, and to improve the flavor of food. While advances in technology and communication have brought the world to our doorstep, we face a critical need to make the Earth a more sustainable place. There has never been a better time to grow herbs.
Herbs are plants whose roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are used in some form, and grow in the temperate zone. Perennial herbs such as chives, sage, lovage and mint, once happily planted, will return every spring. Tender herbs including basil, dill, summer savory and cilantro, won’t survive a frost, and need to be cultivated every year. One of my most favorite spring herbs is chives. The cheerful, slender green and hollow shoots of “grass” start to appear once the soil in the ground has warmed. Soon, the edges of my herb garden are decorated with clumps of chives blossoming with bright purple and pink bonbons.
Chives are a familiar seasoning to most of us. Their mild, onion flavor adds a tasty dimension to salads, dressings and marinades, even eggs. They’re delicious when added to cooked dishes such as soups, but be sure to add them toward the end of the cooking time to retain their flavor. Nutritionally speaking, chives are a good source of vitamin A, and a fair source of potassium and calcium.
I first tasted lemon chive vinaigrette on a lobster and white bean salad. The combination of zesty citrus with mild onion complemented the lobster perfectly, and made the beans sing. Then I tried the dressing on a simple shredded carrot salad. It was irresistible!
A jar of lemon chive vinaigrette in the refrigerator also is as handy as a marinade. Halibut steaks, chicken breast, even asparagus marinated in this bright tasting sauce will be delicious hot off the grill. When your chive plants start to blossom, the flowers can be added to salads, or used to garnish plates.
Here in Maine, chives (not lobstah), signal the start of delicious, summer eating.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes food-related questions and comments at [email protected]
Carrot & Cranberry Salad with Lemon Chive Vinaigrette
Lemon Chive Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup dressing
½ cup olive oil
3 Tbsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 Tbsp. Dijon or grainy mustard
½ cup finely chopped chives (or other fresh herbs)
3 Tbsps. white Balsamic or white wine vinegar
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
Add the olive oil, mustard and chopped chives to a stainless-steel bowl and vigorously whisk together. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and whisk until emulsified. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.
Make this dressing when the chives are still tender and haven’t blossomed. Store the vinaigrette in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
Nutritional analysis per tablespoon: 40 calories, less than 1 gram protein, less than 1 gram carbohydrates, 4.2 grams fat, 25 mg. sodium, less than 1 gram fiber.
Makes 4-6 servings
1 lb. carrots, peeled and shredded, about 4 cups total
½ cup dried cranberries, plumped in hot water if needed
½ cup lemon chive vinaigrette
Fresh greens or sprouts for serving (optional)
Fresh flowers (marigolds, nasturtiums) for garnish (optional)
Peel the carrots. Using a food processor or grater, shred the carrots. You should have about 4 cups shredded carrots. Add to a large bowl.
If needed, pour some hot water over the dried cranberries to plump them. Drain the water and add the cranberries to the carrots.
Pour the dressing over the salad and stir well. For best flavor, refrigerate salad for 2 hours or more for the flavors to marry.
To serve: Allow salad to come to room temperature. Serve on a bed of fresh greens or sprouts and garnish with flower petals. This salad keeps several days in the refrigerator and is perfect for the lunchbox.