"Without the microgreens, that bite just would not have felt finished."
For a long time, I thought microgreens were pretty fussy. Tiny little tendrils of vegetables—they seemed better suited to salads in Lilliput than the chipped bowls in our kitchen.
Chefs in expensive restaurants finished plates of architectural foods with a twist of two or three slender threads of microgreens, which added $10 to the dish. To me, they seemed like a bit of a ruse.
It wasn't until I started gardening that I understood the appeal of microgreens.
Unlike sprouts, which are deliberately grown in water and never feel the soil surrounding them, microgreens are simply the first small starts of arugula or beets, cilantro and kale. Anyone who gardens knows the difficult process of thinning out the profusion of seeds that have sprung into a field of green on black earth. Let them all grow and they will suffocate each other.
For awhile, I didn't have the heart to thin my small plants. Who was I to decide which ones grew into full glory? However, the arugula plants I allowed to crowd against each other in the back part of the garden never grew more than a couple of inches tall. They seemed to have spent all their energy jostling against each other instead of stretching toward the sky. Instead of a summer of salads full of arugula, we had one salad with tiny arugula starts.
It was delicious.
Mature garden-grown arugula has a kick that makes your mouth open wide in surprise. As much as I love it, I can never eat an entire salad out of the big leaves. However, the peppery surprise of arugula was small but potent in those tender starts. We gathered the arugula microgreens, lightly dressed them in a sherry vinaigrette, and topped our grilled salmon with the salad.
I was sold on microgreens after that. Now, I understand that chefs are constantly thinking about the taste of something bright or acidic or slightly peppery that will round out the full flavor of a dish. (Marrying a chef has helped me understand the world of restaurants far better than I did before.) One bite could taste a little bit flat, but that crunch of bull's blood beet microgreens could make it something new.
This past weekend, Danny and I cooked a farm-to-table dinner at Dog Mountain Farm, outside of Seattle. We crafted a dinner of five courses, with the help of good friends, for nearly 80 people sitting at tables in the apple orchard, overlooking the Cascade Mountains. Danny decided that the perfect first bite would be toasted crostini (made from gluten-free sourdough baguettes) topped with curried red lentil puree, fresh feta, and the microgreens from the farm you see pictured above.
He was right.
It was bright and surprising, a lovely greeting to people as they arrived. Without the microgreens, that bite just would not have felt finished.
If you'd like to grow microgreens on windowsills or in your garden, take a look at this piece from the blog You Grow Girl and this one from Sunset magazine. There are hundreds of recipes out there that use microgreens, but I'm particularly excited to try this tomato and mozzarella salad as soon as tomatoes are in season here.
This spring, I couldn't wait to thin the plants so we could eat salads made of miniature fennel fronds, sorrel leaves, and basil shoots. Every night, depending on what I had thinned that day, my husband and I had small salads as accompaniments to whatever we were cooking.
Even in chipped bowls, microgreens taste lovely, particularly when you grow them yourself.