Spring is a time of transition and surprise and a lot of gaps. While we await the arrival of our local lettuces, kale, collards and peas, our growers are helping to fill this tween season with assorted microgreens. These vibrantly hued tiny shoots of Swiss chard, arugula, beetroot, purple mustard and peas greens are pretty, delicious and so very easy to use.
Let’s be clear, microgreens are often confused with sprouts, but they are not the same thing. Sprouts are seeds germinated in water just long enough (usually 48 hours) to grow roots, a stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves. Microgreens, on the other hand, need soil and sunlight and at least seven days to grow before they can be harvested. Because they are just a little older than sprouts, their flavors are more developed. While the taste is far milder than the mature plant, these greens do have distinct flavors. Pea greens are slightly sweet, arugula, kale and mustard pack a peppery kick.
They’re so tender it’s best to add them at the end of any cooked dish, such as a stir-fry or vegetable sauté. As a garnish, they add a lively color to cream of mushroom, potato and tomato soups. Pile them on pizza as it comes from the oven, on open-faced sandwiches, and any salad for color and zip.
Given their delicate texture, they’re most often sold packaged in 1.5- to 3-ounce plastic containers to protect and preserve them. When you get them home, do not rinse them until ready to use. Be gentle! Dunk them quickly in cold water and pat dry on a clean dishcloth or paper towel.
It’s very easy to grow your own microgreens. Find seed packets of salad mixes in local natural food co-ops and garden stores. All you need is a container with good drainage, some soil, and a sunny spot in the kitchen or right outside the back door. (You’ll have greens in one or two weeks.) The seed packets provide more specific directions.
Homegrown, or fresh from the store, these microgreens, aka salad confetti, though tiny, offer flavor, color and crunch. Even on a surprisingly chilly day in late spring, there is nothing better than a lively salad, the taste of good things ahead.
Spring Salad of Pears, Microgreens and Sunflower Seeds in Lemon Ginger Vinaigrette
Note: This simple composed salad of contrasting textures and bright flavors makes a winning first course. Add grilled chicken for a light meal. The dark sesame oil adds a rich, toasty flavor to the vinaigrette, but if you don’t have it on hand, simply increase the vegetable oil by a tablespoon. You may want to double the recipe. It keeps a week, in a covered container in the refrigerator. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 to 3 tbsp. sunflower seeds
• 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
• 1 tsp. finely grated ginger
• 1 tsp. honey
• 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seed oil
• 2 tbsp. light sesame seed, sunflower or vegetable oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• Pinch red pepper flakes, optional
• 2 ripe pears (Anjou or Bartlett), cored, sliced thin
• 4 c. microgreens, gently rinsed and dried
Toast the sunflower seeds in a dry pan over medium heat, until seeds are fragrant.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, ginger and honey. Then whisk in the oils. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
Arrange the pear slices on separate plates or 1 large serving plate.
In a medium bowl, gently toss the microgreens with enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat. Arrange the greens over the pears and sprinkle the sunflower seeds over all. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 180 Fat 12 g Sodium 36 mg
Carbohydrates 19 g Saturated fat 2 g Total sugars 11 g
Protein 2 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 4 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 fruit, ½ carb, 2½ fat.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.