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Home Cooking with Microgreens

Harvesting Chinese mustard microgreens.

“With a few pots on hand, the home chef can reap a variety of microgreens to spruce and sprinkle on every meal.

Victory gardens are worthy endeavors, deserving of all the accolades they amass, but they also yield dishearteningly little produce relative to the effort and expense involved in keeping them. Growing one’s own garden is a noble and enjoyable project in and of itself. It fosters a number of healthy habits, including spending time outside moving around, communing with nature, reveling in self-sufficiency, and teaching or learning more about plants and food. When it comes to feeding oneself and one’s family, however, it’s almost also cheaper—and certainly easier—to purchase food from farmers who grow on a larger scale.

Marin Roots Farm sells flats and half-flats of microgreens to restaurants and cooks at the Thursday San Rafael farmers market.

The exception to this rule of thumb is the underrated microgreen—at once quick and easy to grow, inexpensive to plant, rich in nutrients, and a versatile and aesthetically pleasing ingredient to cook with. Perhaps it’s the fact that they mostly appear as garnishes at fine restaurants that cast microgreens in an intimidating light. Microgreens needn’t be left to the professionals, however, if one can only see them for the mere seedlings they are.

Almost any vegetable can be harvested as a microgreen. Radishes, carrots, sunflowers, basil, pea shoots, spinach, arugula, and mustard greens are some examples. At the microgreen stage—between sprout and “baby green”—their texture is most delicate, their flavor either more subtle or more intense, depending on the green, and their nutritional content up to 40% higher than their mature counterparts. Used as a garnish, they add a burst of color and complexity of flavor to a portion of protein. They offer nuance to salads and soups without overpowering and are easier and often more pleasant to chew than their adult selves.

Sautéed wild salmon with Chinese mustard microgreens, served with a mélange of sautéed shitake mushrooms, grilled onions, and poached asparagus.

Growing microgreens requires very little space. A simple terracotta pot is serviceable to plant seeds that are ready to harvest in ten to fourteen days and can then be replanted over and over again for a rolling supply of green gourmet goodies. With a few pots on hand, the home chef can reap a variety of microgreens to spruce and sprinkle on every meal. Notwithstanding the microgreen’s highfalutin reputation, greens are actually easier to cook with in their infancy; pluck, pinch, and rinse microgreens and they are ready for consumption. No chopping to endure, no pots or pans and wrestle with.

When starting a little microgreen garden, begin with some interesting flavors that marry well with different cuisines. For example, try experimenting with mustard greens to sprinkle on Asian dishes, some basil to use in Italian food, and lettuce seeds for salads. There are endless combinations to inspire and delight the home cook.

Sweet pea microgreen salad with blanched fava beans, roasted garlic, goat feta, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt and pepper.

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