Driving up the Eastern Seaboard in early May, you meet spring head-on in Virginia. Redbud and dogwood bloom stand out against the acid green of newly leafed-out trees, while daffodils and tulips brighten the roadside rest areas. Gradually the blossoms and leaves disappear as you continue northward and the landscape struggles out from under the blanket of winter. Thoughts of foraging for ramps and fiddleheads are set aside the farther north you go, as the reality of a slow spring sets in: if you want something fresh and green it’s dandelions or nothing. Which is still a gift, as tender dandelion leaves sauteed with garlic and oil are a great addition to any menu, as well as a tonic for the liver.

But hold on; at the edges of the garden are two husky clumps of chives, the superheroes of the herb world. Like other herbs, chives are a great addition to many foods, adding their delicate oniony flavor to creamy dips and salad dressings, potato dishes and seafood. But unlike the oregano and thyme that grow alongside them, chives are also ready to serve as a main ingredient and a stylish garnish.

Best of all, chives are probably the most carefree of herbs. Divisions are the most common way to plant chives. Just find an established clump in early spring, either at a garden center or from a friend with a garden. Gently dig a largish clump and pull away smaller bits. Each smaller clump should have at least five to 10 bulbs. Transplant these tiny bulbs to a sunny spot in your own garden and your work is done. If you wish, they can be grown in a pot or window box, but wherever you plant them, try to keep chives close at hand so you can dash out for a generous handful as a last-minute addition to a salad or omelette. Cut the slender blades off about two inches from the base of the plant. If you want to bring a larger supply inside, wrap unwashed chives loosely in a plastic bag and store in a warmer part of the refrigerator, like the door. When you’re ready to use them, wash and add them at the end of your recipe’s cooking time to maintain their delicate flavor.

Chives are the star of a quick lunch or appetizer in the following recipe for Chinese pancakes.

C H I N E S E   P A N C A K E S

1 bunch chives, cleaned, cut into one-inch strips
1 cup flour
1 cup water
2 eggs
12 tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. oil
Dipping sauce:
12 cup soy sauce
12 cup rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. Chinese chili garlic sauce
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Put flour and eggs in a bowl; while slowly pouring in water, stir to mix well. Stir in salt and add chives. Spread oil on a non-stick or cast iron pan over medium heat, pour about one third of the mixture into the pan and shape into a round. Cook for about four to five minutes each side. Remove the pancake from the pan and keep warm while continuing on until all the mixture is used. In a small shallow bowl, mix dipping ingredients together. Cut pancakes in quarters before serving with dipping sauce.

While basil pesto is just a distant dream in early May, chive pesto is at your service.

C H I V E   P E S T O

12 cup olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 cup (packed) chopped fresh chives,
12 cup (packed) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
14 cup slivered almonds, chopped walnuts or pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Combine chives, parsley, nuts and garlic in a processor. Pulse until finely chopped. With machine running, gradually add oil through feed tube and process until incorporated. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, stir in lemon juice and two tablespoons water. Season with salt and pepper.

Sometime around mid-June your chive plants will be covered with a cloud of pale lavender-pink blossoms. The petals are delicious sprinkled over any food that would benefit from a hint of onion, but to preserve their flavor, infuse some blossoms in vinegar. Wash freshly cut chive blossoms in cool water and dry them thoroughly. Fill a mason jar two-thirds full with the blossoms, cover with white wine vinegar, seal, and store in a cool, dark spot for two weeks. Strain out the solids, pour into a clean bottle, and enjoy the bright pink, lightly onion-flavored vinegar in your favorite salad dressing.

Once the blossoms have faded, give your chive plant a haircut just below the flowers with scissors or hedge trimming shears. This will keep your chives looking tidy for the rest of the summer, with plenty of fresh green blades for snipping well into the fall.