Growing, Enjoying Microgreens

Growing MicrogreensMicrogreens are all the rage. Professional chefs and home gourmets love them for their concentrated flavors and beautifully tangled appearance. Gardeners love them because they are quick and easy to grow … indoors! The health-conscious among us love them because they are a concentrated and delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.

What are microgreens? They’re basically seedlings, planted in soil, and harvested early — very early — when their first true leaves appear. The difference between microgreens and sprouts? Sprouts are typically raised without soil and harvested before true leaves are formed. Sprouts are otherwise much the same, just younger. Growing microgreens in soil with sunlight, allowing them to reach the point where they are setting leaves, gives them both a nutritional and flavor edge. They’re the miniature, fledgling form of greens and other veggies you plant in your garden in tiny concentrated form. Strong-flavored greens and herbs — things like radish, basil, arugula, beets, fenugreek and Asian greens — make the best microgreens. But almost anything you sprout or any green you plant in the garden will make delicious microgreens.

The one drawback to microgreens? Purchased at the store, they’re expensive — very expensive. But there’s no need to do that.

How to grow them? We like the method Mark Diacono and Lia Leendertz outline in their excellent new book The Speedy Vegetable Garden. They fill a section of unpainted guttering, cut to a convenient length, one that fits on a windowsill, and fill it with organic compost or growing medium. Then they plant. The soil is kept moist and, once the seeds germinate, they’re ready to harvest in a week, possibly more during the dead of winter. Slower germinators, like coriander — a delicious microgreen and possibly better as such than when allowed to fully mature — may take ten days to two weeks. Use the best organic seed you can find. Organic sprouting seed is ideal. We don’t need to tell you what a wonderful activity growing microgreens is for the budding young gardeners in your family.

Of course, there are more attractive ways to grow them. You can also grow microgreens in the plastic clam shell boxes that salads and other produce come in. Poke some holes from drainage and proceed as above. Either way you choose — which probably depends on how quickly you’ll eat your micros — don’t be afraid to mix various seeds in the same growing space. Mesclun salad mixes make wonderful microgreens. A small pair of scissors is helpful come harvest time.

How to use them? As a topping on salads they’re attractive and add a spicy kick to your greens. They’re good on sandwiches and used like herbs in cooking. Diacono and Leendertz include a wonderful recipe for baked mackerel and coriander greens in their book. We like to put a bowl of mustard microgreens near the salsa when we’re dipping chips. The mustard heat is something different, contrasting wonderfully with the salsa.

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