After the late Kansas snows, spring is finally unfolding around us.
The tulips have pushed their way through the soil and are in full bloom. The grass has turned green, and Bradford pears are a sea of white.
My herb bed is coming alive, as well. I made my first cutting of chives a few days ago. They already have regenerated and are ready to cut again. Chives appear at the first sign of spring and, once planted, come back year after year. Chives add a burst of flavor to salads, sauces and vegetables. When I don’t harvest them often enough, they produce beautiful purple flowers, which make a gorgeous garnish. Yes, I love chives — I think I will plant some more this spring.
Some of you have questions about chives and other members of the onion family. Let’s get those questions answered.
Q. What is the difference between chives, scallions and green onions? When I order a baked potato in a restaurant, often it will say it is served with chives, but it looks like green onions. Are they same thing?
A. Chives are not the same as green onions. However, restaurants often substitute thinly sliced green onions on baked potatoes as they are easier to obtain and less expensive. They are both members of the onion family. Chives are an herb and are the smallest species of the edible onions. They are very mild in flavor and usually are used as a garnish. Green onions and scallions are the same thing. They have a stronger flavor than chives. However, when thinly sliced, they are a good substitute if chives are not available.
Q. Do you use the green tops of green onions or only the bulb?
A. Yes, I use the green tops. To me, that is the best part. When selecting green onions for the supermarket, I always pick the young tender ones over the larger more-developed ones.
Q. When a recipe calls for onions, what kind do you buy? Does it matter? There are yellow ones, white ones and red ones, and I never know which ones to select.
A. Technically, any of the onions you mention will work for most recipes. However, some are better than others. Here is a rundown of the different kinds and their uses.
• Yellow onions are the most common and versatile. They are very pungent but mellow when cooked and are used primarily for soups, casseroles, stews and sauces. These are the ones that are used most often and also are good keepers.
• White onions are sharp and juicy and are used frequently in spicy dishes.
• Red onions are sweeter, and their beautiful color make them a natural for salads and burger toppings.
• Sweet onions, such as Walla Walla, Vidalia and Maui, are very mild with high sugar content. They are a natural served raw in salads and on sandwiches or as onion rings.
Q. Most times when an onion is used in a recipe, you need to saute it before adding other ingredients. What is that about? Why can’t you just dump it in?
A. Onions, along with garlic, bell peppers and celery, are considered aromatic vegetables — those with lots of flavor. Because fat (butter, oil or other kinds of fat) is a carrier of flavor, sauteing aromatic vegetables in fat enhances the flavor throughout the dish. You will have better flavor if you take a few moments to saute those aromatic vegetables.