Chinese Chives are hot in the modern cuisine. Luckily, these greens thrive in our small, organic garden in Ericeira. The elegant, long leaves come out with a delicious garlicky flavor, a perfect juicy texture and a beautiful color. The plant, Kutsai in Chinese, grows fast from seed, and once you harvest them, guess what? They just grow back again, and are ready to eat in 2 to 3 weeks. Wonderful! But there is more.
On top of being supper productive and almost care-free, these Chinese greens have proved themselves to be incredibly versatile. Unlike our common chives, this variety is actually used as a vegetable, instead of as an aromatic herb.
Since we have enough plants for harvesting every other day, not only have we become familiar with the traditional recipes, but have also invented a few of our own. At present, our go-to, easy and quick dish is the flavorsome chives and chestnuts mushrooms fried rice.
These leaves have proved themselves to be extremely versatile. Our favourite recipes include, the leaves layered in a comforting leek and artichoke lasagna, baked in a mushroom and feta quiche, stir-fried with liver, omelette or pork, and stuffed in our vegan empanadas or Chinese dumplings.
Growing Our Own Chinese Chives
Ericeira has been blessed with mild whether, which means that you can sow your Kutsai seeds either in Spring or Autumn, for they are frost-resistant. What is more, the seedlings are not attractive to our abundant slugs and snails, they do not mind a little wind, and they absolutely love the sunshine! Perfect, right?
Our Chinese friends, who are experienced growers and who introduced us to these greens, are at least impressed. According to them, these are the best Chinese chives they have ever tried, better than the ones grown in China. The reason for the surprisingly intense flavor, they say, must be down to the quality of the soil along with the long hours of sunshine.
Sowing your Chinese Chives seeds
Where to sow? Whenever possible, choose a place with full sun exposition, a well-drained patch in your garden, where the soil is rich in organic matter. You can sow directly in such a spot.
When to sow? Spring or Autumn. The plant thrives in mild weather, about 20°C.
How to sow? You can sow your seeds directly in the ground, where you want the Chives to be. Place about 10 seeds in each hole, keeping a distance of about 25 centimetres between rows and a little less between holes within a row. Although the plant does not expand much, you will want to leave enough space between rows to walk when caring for your greens. Cover the seeds with a loose, thin top layer, about as thick as the seed and finally, gently water them.
Caring for you Chinese Chives
Our Chinese chives thrive with little, basic care, including regular watering. This needs to be done daily, specially in warmer and drier periods. We also top up the vegetable patch with manure, every now and again. This top layer comes in handy for keeping the soil moist through out the day.
Basic care tips:
- Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Munching also helps with keeping the moisture, as does a good layer of compost.
- Harvest your greens often, cutting all of the leaves off at ground level, as this will help them to grow back stronger. And, keep up with your weeding.
- Also, be careful not to tread on the plants, as this will deform the leaves and delay growth.
- In the end of the second year, move your plants to another patch ensuring rotation for soil and plant health.
Harvesting your Chinese Chives
You will be able to harvest you Chinese Chives nearly all year long, from March to November/December. In the Winter however, when temperatures drop, the leaves will stop growing, but remain intact throughout the coldest months of the year, ready to harvest again when Spring comes.
Once Winter is over, the leaves will resume normal growth, usually in March, when temperatures are higher again. At this point, you can go back to harvesting the greens as usual, cutting the same plant back every 2 to 3 weeks.
After cutting down each plant, go through your bunch picking the leaves and arrange them in a pile, base with base. This will make rinsing and chopping a breeze, later on.
Preparing your Greens
Chinese chives are traditionally cooked with chopped omelette, chicken liver or thinly sliced portk. They may also be used to fill dumplings dumplings or pickled. The omelette and chives stuffing went well in our empanadas too. However, for the vegan version, we replaced the eggs with smoked tofu, which also is a common mixture for dumplings.
Quick and Easy Cooking Tips
- Fry in small batches at a high heat, otherwise the leaves will become soggy.
- Stir-fry with chopped garlic and ginger only.
- If adding omelette, mushrooms or meat, fry these separately and then add to the chives
- Once the stir-fry is ready, drizzle with a little sesame oil, soy sauce and Chinkiang vinegar, and then fold in the chopped omelette, mushrooms or meat
Cooking directions for Chinese Chives with Omelette
This is a simple, flavorsome and beautiful dish that can be served with rice, as part of a meal, or used as stuffing for dumplings.
Start with brushing a hot frying pan or wok with a little oil. Then, whisk 3 eggs with some freshly grated nutmeg. Fry the mixture on high in 2 or 3 batches, making 3 thin omelettes. Layer these together over a chopping board and cut them in diamond shape, about 3 centimetres long.
Next, in a hot frying pan, add 1 or 2 tbsp of oil, 1 tsp chopped garlic and 1 tsp chopped ginger. Fry until fragrant. Add the leaves of 2 or 3 bunches of Chinese chives, chopped in sections of about 3 centimetres long. Divide the leaves into 2 smaller batches, add a little salt, and quickly fry them over a high heat. Add more oil if needed.
Finally, return the omelette diamonds and chives to the pan, add 1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1 tbsp of Chinkiang vinegar and a half tsp of sesame oil.
Cooking directions for our Quick and Easy, Vegan Fried Rice
There is a reason why this is our quick and easy, go-to dish. If you have leftover rice, all you have to do is fry the mushrooms and the greens, then, combine the 3 ingredients and serve at once. What is more, this dish is also good at room temperature.
Start with the Mushrooms by frying 1 tsp minced garlic and 4 or 5, thinly sliced, chestnut mushrooms on a very high heat and set it aside.
Next, in a hot frying pan, add 1 or 2 tbsp of oil, 1 tsp chopped garlic and 1 tsp chopped ginger. Fry until fragrant. Add the leaves of 2 or 3 bunches of Chinese chives, chopped in sections about 3 centimetres long. Divide the leaves into 2 smaller batches and quickly fry them over a high heat. Add more oil if needed.
Finally, return everything to the frying pan, mix well to combine and serve with a dash of freshly ground black pepper.
Cooking the rice
In a saucepan, rinse one cup of rice and cover with 3 cups of water. Add a spoon of salt, cover and bring it to the boil on high heat. Allow it to boil for about 1 minute then, using a sieve, drain all the water. Return the rice to the saucepan, add a drizzle of oil, stir gently to combine being careful not to damage the grains, cover and simmer on low until cooked. Finally, add to the mushrooms and Chives in the frying pan and mix well.
Follow us on Instagram @ericeiraliving for more recipes.