He who bears chives on his breath, is safe from being kissed to death. — Marcus Valerius Martialis, Epigrams 80 A.D.
They look like scallions, but my farmer friend calls them Chinese Chives. She’s from northern China, which, it turns out, is the ancestral homeland of this plant. So she would know. The Latin name translates to “root garlic," but it’s more commonly known as “garlic chive.” A native to the Siberian steppes of northern China and Mongolia, Allium tuberoseum now grows throughout the temperate zones of the world. It is easy to start from seed, and spreads by root clumping. Nancy cuts as close to those clumps as she can, for maximum white part.
The bunches of chives that Nancy sells at the Missoula Farmers Market are about 14 inches long. Green and flat at the tips, they widen and whiten toward the roots like young onions. I deploy the white and green parts at different junctures, as you would a leek or scallion, and they perform like stallions, filling my food with a sweet, green, pungent flavor that seems to encompass everything good about onions, garlic, leeks, ramps, shallots, and all the other edible members of the allium (garlic) genus.
Nancy uses the white parts to make scallion omelets and the green parts to make ginger/pork/chive dumplings. She also separates the in-between white and green parts for this other egg dish that I didn’t entirely understand, other than she and her husband enjoy it as a late-night snack.
I love ginger pork dumplings, especially when somebody else makes them. I will surely get around to using Nancy’s chives in my own dumplings at some point, but in the meantime I have been taking my chive greens elsewhere. It’s not hard to find places to use them. Sweeter and milder than the white part, they still pack a lot of garlicky flavor. I dust them on linguine, rice, clam chowder or toast, simmer them into ramen, substitute them for basil in caprese, scatter them upon scallops and skordalia (potato garlic sauce), and munch behind a mouthful of just about anything savory. Those garlic chive greens improve every bite.
Nancy told me how to make her omelet, and I have tried to follow her way faithfully. The language barrier is such that I may never know for sure what she does, and that’s fine. Meanwhile, I’ve added some things that I know she doesn’t use, like butter. I also use the chopped raw green part, by beating them into the raw eggs. They get just a hint of heat, and stay bright green. And those in-between white and green parts that Nancy uses for late night eggs, I don’t separate them out. I just chop my chives in half, and call it good.
Chive Nest Eggs
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 bunch (100 grams) garlic chives, minced, with white and green parts kept separate
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Heat the fats on high in a lightweight omelet pan. When sputtering, add the minced chive whites. Spread them around in the oil evenly. Add four tablespoons of chopped greens to the beaten egg. For extra fanciness lay a few whole chive leaves in the pan, in some kind of pattern among the chopped bits. After about a minute of sizzling, add the eggs, slowly pouring them in a circular motion over the pan. Tilt the pan around for even coverage. Keep shaking the pan to keep the omelet moving lest it stick.
From here the exact cook time will depend upon how hot your burner is, how thin your pan is, and how well you like your eggs cooked. For me, after about 2 minutes the omelet is ready for flipping. It’s all in the knees, not the wrist — just bend your knees and you will catch it. Or use a spatula to fold the omelet in half. Or chopsticks to roll it, Chinese style. Or grind it around the pan with a fork and call it good.