What’s in Season: Micro Goes Macro

Mini greens meet a growing demand.

Fresh, raw, crunchy, and needing little to no preparation. It’s what we’re all craving after a winter of braises, stews and four-hour roasts. Enter the microgreen, a diminutive offering that is on the rise amongst Finger Lakes farmers who have greenhouse space and a few pairs of sharp scissors.

Microgreens are young shoots of vegetables and herbs harvested less than two weeks after germination. They are usually 2-3 inches long and come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, making them popular with chefs looking to gussy up their dishes.

A recent study at the U.S. Department of Agriculture looked at the nutrient level of 25 varieties of microgreens, focusing mostly on vitamins and phytochemical richness. The researchers were more than surprised at what they found. According to the results, leaves from the microgreens had four to six times more nutrients than the mature leaves of the same plant, including red cabbage and white radishes.

The culinary team at Red Newt have created some inventive ways to incorporate those healthy aspects, bringing a gentle touch to more full flavored dishes.

When the microgreen from an herb is used, it can also bring the next season a little sooner. The chefs at Red Newt take basil microgreens, which have a lovely gently basil flavor, and add them to an heirloom tomato soup, using fresh tomatoes they canned during the previous harvest. They also recently used cilantro microgreens on a fish taco, which they found a fantastic substitute to bland chopped romaine lettuce.

The other taste of summer that can come from a microgreen is corn, believe it or not. Thunder Mountain Foods grows a corn sprout and the bright yellow color of corn pops off the plate-like sunshine. The shoot comes from popcorn kernels planted in soil and brings with it all the sweetness of summer corn.

The farmers at West Haven Farm in Ithaca are committed to offering the shoots to their many customers too. Every week they walk with scissors along the rows of their greenhouse on West Hill trimming the tendrils and packing them in plastic cups bound for the farmers’ market. They use larger bags for their restaurant customers, like The Piggery, where microgreens replace lettuce in their deli sandwiches.

“We haven’t gone a week in our restaurant without having micro-greens, “says Heather Sandford of The Piggery in Ithaca. “We use them all year round and it’s amazing that we have such great farmers that are able to produce them for us.”

This featured first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of the magazine.

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