With the exception of dogs and babies, I'm a sucker for miniature things. Mini horses kill me with the cuteness. Possibly the greatest gift I ever received was a fruit basket filled with miniature fruit. As a child, I distinctly remember stealing mini jam jars from a hotel, simply because I thought they were adorable.
Microgreens, tiny greens harvested 10-14 days after planting, are no exception to my fascination with tiny. Even if you don't share in my obsession with little things, there are plenty of reasons to include microgreens on your plate. First, you don't have to worry about that awkward moment when you try to shove a too-big piece of lettuce in your mouth. Also, the tiny plant has a more concentrated taste, as if all the flavor in the mature leaf has been squeezed into each tiny microgreen. Just a handful tossed into a salad is enough to punch up the flavor.
This being a nutrition blog and all, I'm sure you already guessed microgreens have more going for them than cuteness. Microgreens are incredibly nutrient dense. In fact, the first scientific evaluation of microgreens found they contain 4-40 times more nutrients than the mature plant! Red cabbage microgreens, for example, have 40 times more vitamin E than fully grown red cabbage. Broccoli microgreens may contain 20-50 times more sulphorphane, a cancer fighting phytonutrient, than the mature vegetable.
There may be good reason for this concentration in nutrition. Microgreens are harvested during a time of rapid growth, called the coteleydon stage. This is the time between sprouting and becoming a seedling, before a plant fully develops it's root. The rapid growth during the phase requires plenty of nutrients to fuel it's growth and transformation.
I'm lucky to have City Roots, a local organic farm that specializes in microgreens, less than a mile away. With their CSA each week, we receive a different bag of microgreens. Even if microgreens are readily available, don't let that deter you! Microgreens are easily grown at home. Even I, notorious plant serial killer, can grow microgreens. They require very little sunlight and are ready for harvest in just 10-14 days, so if you have a sunroom or even a windowsill, you can have a steady supply of microgreens all year long.
My favorites? I love basil, which are so pungent they taste almost minty. Use these greens to make the most incredible classic pesto you've ever tried, or to garnish ensalata Caprese. I also adore peppery arugula, mustard and radish microgreens, which I used for this salad. Crunchy sunflower microgreens work well on a vegetable sandwich. And while amaranth microgreens don't have the most incredible flavor, their gorgeous purple color makes them a favorite of mine for garnishing.
So what are you waiting for? Get growing!
- 1 1/2 cups organic whole or 2% milk
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup polenta
- 1 teaspoon Italian or Greek seasoning (I used a bend of oregano, basil and sun-dried tomato)
- Olive oil spray
- Juice from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
- 2/3 cup crumbled organic feta cheese
- 1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives
- 4-8 cups microgreens (I suggest a peppery one, like kale, radish or arugula)
- First, make the polenta croutons. Bring the milk and water to a boil in a medium pot. Mix in about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Slowly stream in polenta while whisking to break up any lumps. Reduce heat to low and cook until very thick, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in spice mix.
- Pour polenta into an oiled, square/rectangle baking dish so it is about 3/4-inch thick. Place in the refrigerator and chill until cold and firm, about 1-2 hours.
- When ready to make the salad, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the polenta into 1-inch cubes. Place evenly on an oiled baking sheet and spray evenly to coat with olive oil. Alternatively, you could use a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, but be careful not to let the polenta touch, as the croutons are delicate and a little bit sticky. Bake for 25 minutes, flipping halfway, until crispy on the outside. Set aside to let cool slightly. If they are hot when you add it to the salad, it will wilt the delicate microgreens.
- While the croutons are baking, in a small bowl whisk together the dressing ingredients and season with salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, toss together the microgreens, tomatoes, feta and olives. Toss in the dressing. Serve topped with polenta croutons.