THE FOODIE FILES: Microgreens, Macro Might

By on December 28, 2016

Meet a local superfood that will enhance your health and excite your taste buds all winter long.

Left: Chives on steroids—the Vertical Harvest rock chive microgreens. Middle: Bull’s blood beet microgreens growing in the VH microfarm. Right: Spicy microgreens pair well with caramelized wedges of butternut squash and pistachio pesto. (Photos: Annie Fenn, MD)

Left: Chives on steroids—the Vertical Harvest rock chive microgreens. Middle: Bull’s blood beet microgreens growing in the VH microfarm. Right: Spicy microgreens pair well with caramelized wedges of butternut squash and pistachio pesto. (Photos: Annie Fenn, MD)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – At first glance, it’s hard to take microgreens seriously. These cute, miniature versions of mature plants sprouted onto the scene as a trendy ingredient about five years ago. Since then we’ve seen an awful lot of restaurant dishes garnished with the ubiquitous sprinkle of microgreens, like a modern version of a parsley sprig. You can’t blame chefs for going crazy with these tiny, edible greens—microgreens are an easy way to add a punch of flavor and a ping of bright color to any dish.

But when I actually stopped to consider the microgreen as an ingredient beyond its role as a garnish, I discovered how crazy delicious and healthy they are. While taking a tour of the microfarm at Vertical Harvest—a room upstairs in our hometown hydroponic greenhouse devoted to growing these beauties—I tasted each and every one of their 17 varieties.

If you love spicy greens, the wasabi, daikon radish and red mustard microgreens will blow your mind with how much flavor is packed into each seedling. That’s really what microgreens are: plants picked in the seedling stage with two cotyledons, a stem and a tiny root. Microgreens go from seed to harvest in less than 14 days. But don’t confuse them with sprouts—seeds germinated in water just long enough to grow roots, a stem and underdeveloped leaves. Speaking of, commercially produced sprouts should be consumed with caution. They are known to harbor menacing bacteria and have been linked to thousands of cases of serious food borne illnesses.

The spicy microgreens, on the other hand, are easy to love, but so are those belonging to the mint family—Thai basil, cinnamon basil, shiso red and shiso jewel. You know shiso as that serrated leaf that usually holds your nigiri sushi. It’s a minty, herbaceous, basil-like flavor. Now try a shiso microgreen and multiply that flavor times 20. That’s the beauty of microgreens—maximum flavor in a tiny package.

For those with more sensitive palates, sunflower micros are a good place to start. Their nutty, grassy flavor pairs well with just about anything you are likely to cook—as a topping for soups, as part of a salad of mixed greens, or stuffed into my favorite on-the-go breakfast sandwich: bacon, avocado and microgreens on a sourdough roll.

Microgreens with big personalities—like shiso, wasabi, and bull’s blood beet—are fun to experiment with. They add great contrast in flavor and texture when paired with a sweet and savory base, like roasted butternut squash wedges, creamy parsnip soup, and caramelized, roasted carrots.

Not only have microgreens won me over for their flavor profile and visual appeal, it appears they are also nutritional powerhouses. It’s no secret that I’m on a mission to discover ways to fill everyone’s belly with foods that are both nutrient-dense and delicious. Microgreens have been on my radar for a long time due to rumors that their nutritional profile is off the charts. Now science is starting to back up the claim that they’re an important superfood.

One study from the University of Maryland, published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, measured four groups of vitamins and phytochemicals such as vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Scientists found the leaves from almost all microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant. Variations in nutrient density were found in different types of microgreens, when they were harvested, and the medium in which they were grown.

Microgreens cost more than their equivalent weight as a mature plant, but local farmers are working hard to bring the price down. As farmer Alex Feher of Huidekoper Ranch explained, one of the reasons they’re expensive is because they require high quality soil. “But that is also why they are so damn good for you,” he said. “The better the soil, the healthier the plants will be.” Feher sources certified biodynamic compost from Paradise Springs Farm in Teton Valley, Idaho. He calls it “black gold” and says it’s some of the best compost you can get.

The farmers over at Vertical Harvest have tinkered with their hydroponic growing medium for optimal nutrition. Find Vertical Harvest microgreens sold in the tray they’re grown in at Jackson Whole Grocer, Lucky’s Market, Pearl Street and Aspens Markets, the winter People’s Market, and Market—the little store inside the greenhouse at VH. Find Huidekoper Ranch microgreens sold cut and bagged in bulk at the winter People’s Market, Aspens and Pearl Street Markets.

I’ve come full circle with my microgreen crush, from cutesy, trendy garnish to everyday superfood. I’ll put on my doctor’s hat and recommend that eating a handful of microgreens a day is more beneficial than anything from a bottle. It’s like a shot of vitamins with a potent dose of flavor for your food.

Recipe: Chef Eric Wilson’s Microgreens Salad

Eric Wilson uses all of the microgreens produced at Vertical Harvest. When I heard he made a killer microgreen salad, I tracked down the über busy private chef for the details. This recipe is translated from Wilson’s chef-speak description, which I’ve adapted for the home cook.

Serves two, easily multiplied

2 handfuls of mixed microgreens—Eric likes sunflower, pea greens, and daikon for some heat

1 handful of arugula

1 handful of frisee

1 endive, cut into thin slices

1 apple, cut into thin slices

½ cup pumpkin seeds (roasted with olive oil and sea salt)

Parmesan cheese

Dressing:

Basil oil and apricot vinegar in a 3:1 ratio (substitute any high quality extra virgin olive oil with a fruit-based vinegar)

½ shallot, finely minced

1 tsp. whole grain mustard

Mix dressing ingredients in a jam jar and shake vigorously.

Toss greens, apple and endive with dressing to lightly coat. Top with pumpkin seeds and microplaned slivers of Parmesan cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie Fenn traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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