Photography by Claire Freierman
A trio of microgreens, with Red Amaranth in the front. Eating them as salad is a pleasure for those with deep pockets, but buying a few boxes for a dinner party will give you the most beautiful, delicious and easy garnishes for almost anything you serve.
I love growing micro-greens.Â Other greens like cress and daikon sprouts can easily be grown in even a greenhouse window.
What are microgreens? They are tiny, tiny vegetables, no more than 8 to 14 days old, that have just developed their cotyledon (first) leaves. They are far tinier than âbaby greens.â Think of the first threadlike shoot that rises when you plant a seed, and the first tiny leaves, barely a quarter-inch in diameter. You may have seen a few scattered on your plate or garnishing your food at fine restaurants.
Microgreens are very tender and oh, what flavor! Both intense and delicate, visually captivating and sublime to eat, they are a gourmet experience. Yet they are highly nutritious, with scarcely a calorie. For people who already like greens, microgreens are the zenith. For people who do not care for salad or raw vegetables:
I love using them as a garnish or in salads.Â
The flavor is great, the colors are beautiful but there is more...the nutritional value!
Microgreens are considered to be in the group of what are newly referred to as âfunctional foodsâ which are food products that contain particular health promoting or disease preventing properties that are additional to their normal nutritional values.Â
Microgreens have been found to contain higher levels of concentrated active compounds than found in mature plants or seeds.Â These tiny baby plants provide a convenient and concentrated means for absorbing the active compounds when made into a health drink which is commonly done with wheatgrass. Â Â
For many years now, a comprehensive range of significant health benefits have been claimed for fresh juice and freeze dried extracts produced from fresh young wheat and barley grass, throughout the world included Japan and the United States.Â Two of my favourites are daikon and Amaranth.Â I love the spiceness of daikon microgreens as well as daikon sprouts-really zest as a garnish.
- With microgreens, less is more.
Their big flavors intrigue chefsÂ
"California," wrote food historian Jonathan Leonard 30 years ago, "is the only place where truck drivers eat fresh salads without fear of being considered effete." Theories abound about why salads have always been popular in California, especially since, in most parts of the country, they were disdained by all but the affluent.
Perhaps this open palate stems from the same adventurous spirit that drew people to the gold mines, or perhaps from the diverse mix of immigrants, many hailing from Asia and the Mediterranean, who settled here, bringing along a positive attitude toward vegetables in general. What we do know is that the Golden State's love of greens is not new. More than a century ago, a visitor to California dubbed it "the Land of Salads."
We have a salad with every dinner and often as a lunch entree choice here in California.Â I think Alice Waters really was instrumental in waking our palates up to greens.
Two early inventions in the salad categoryâcrab Louis and green goddess dressingâwere the inspirations of San Francisco restaurants Solari's and the Palace Hotel, while Hollywood's Brown Derby takes credit for assembling the first cobb salad in 1926. The rest of the country seemed content with the ubiquitous, yawn-provoking chunk of iceberg, with opportunities for variety confined to the choice of dressing.
Â I rarely buy iceberg lettuce unless I am making Asian Lettuce Cups with diced chicken, fresh waterchestnuts, and a spicy sauce.Â The melange of baby greens available is a least over 2 dozen just at my local Safeway.Â I always grow a spicy lettuce mix, and other favourirtes like argula in my garden year round.
Â For California chefs and home cooks, the salad bowl became a culinary playground, tantalizing tumbles of bitter and tangy, of sweet, spicy, peppery. Begin-ning in the 1970s, words like arugula, mesclun, radicchio, and lamb's lettuce slipped into the language, and the insistence on fresh, local produce became a hallmark of California cuisine.
Â Daikon - large crunchy thick stemmed micros with a nice mild radish flavor.
To see a large assortment of available micro-greens:
Please eat the centerpiece: Itâs made of baby greensâhere, Beet Tops.
Microgreens are not sprouted seeds, although some of the same seeds that are sprouted (a process that involves soaking in water until the seed sprouts) are grown as microgreensâbroccoli, mustard, peas and radishes, for example.
The greens are grown hydroponically in the greenhouses. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil. While soil holds nutrients that plants absorb through their roots, it is not essential to plant growth (think of water lilies).
Red Amaranth microgreens: A beet-red herb with aÂ slight flavor of beets. Photography by Claire Freierman