When I was interviewing chef Stuart Ash of Woods last summer I was particularly interested in his use of microgreens (aka ‘vegetable confetti’ by some foodies). A lot of chefs use them, they make many dishes look more unusual and attractive, but they aren’t so easy for the normal domestic cook to find.
This post includes:
what exactly are microgreens?
a brief guide to the most useful microgreens
where to buy microgreens
a description of a central London underground farm which is growing and supplying them successfully
how you can grow them, and my, unsucessful, attempts to grow them myself
Definition of microgreens
What exactly are microgreens? They’re defined as the shoots of salad leaves, rocket, celery, and beetroot, for example, which are picked just after the first leaves have developed, before they are even a couple of weeks old.
They have four to six times more nutrients than mature leaves, but that’s not why they’re increasingly in demand by chefs to adorn salads, sandwiches, soups…. well pretty much anything in fact. Their popularity with professionals is because they are more appealing visually, and often have more flavour.
Guide to microgreens:
Thai basil is far stronger than Mediterranean basil, and when cooked it holds its temperature better. It goes well in stir fries with ginger, garlic and rich soy. Also with fish. They are quite difficult to grow if are considering doing so yourself.
Red vein sorrel
Part of the charm of red vein sorrel is, well, the red veins – it will pep up any dish visually. It’s acidic but not sour and Growing Underground suggests serving it with fried eggs and bacon. They are quite difficult to grow if are considering doing so yourself.
And it’s also all about the colour with red amaranth. It tastes a bit like beetroot.
Pea shoots taste, of course, of pea, but also a little of asparagus. They go especially well in risottos. They are quite difficult to grow if are considering doing so yourself.
Micro mustard leaves are not as fleshy as mature leaves, they look more elegant and delicate, but they have just as much flavour. They go well, dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, with a juicy steak.
Mizuna is a popular leaf in Japan, slightly peppery, it does well tossed with pasta or adorning smoked trout or mackerel.
Garlic chives start off tasting powerfully of onion and finish tasting of wild garlic. They’re good with scrambled eggs; or with blini topped with sour cream and lax.
Growing microgreens in an underground farm in central London
Then when I was researching for the post on trends for 2016 I discovered that two enterprising entrepreneurs, Steven Dring and Richard Ballard (above with Michel Roux Jr who is also involved in the venture), had started up an inner city microgreen farm.
And it’s a farm that’s not just unusual because it’s in the middle of London, deep down below Clapham High Street. This farm is also underground, it’s in a disused World War II bunker. It may be an unexpected location but it’s about as convenient as it could be for New Covent Garden Market. In fact the company boasts ‘farm to fork in under four hours’, and does not supply outside the M25.
It’s all pretty high-tech – Richard Ballard explains that it’s taken eighteen months to research and trial the methods necessary for growing inside and in the dark. The ventilation system has had to be specially designed, and so have the irrigation and lighting (LED) systems. And then there’s the small matter of the lack of soil…. Hydroponics is the solution to that – this is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.
The microgreens being grown by London Underground are: watercress, thai basil, rocket, red veined sorrel, red amaranth, pea shoots, radish, mustard leaf, mizuna, micro-rocket, garlic chive and coriander.
Otherwise you could try growing your own. The easiest microgreens to grow are turnip, bok choi, cress, sesame (not black), red or daikon radish, komatsuna, endive, mustard, cress and most types of lettuce. To find out how to grow microgreens inside, follow this link.
Or better still, buy this book: Microgreen Garden: The Indoor Grower’s Guide to Gourmet Greens
My unsuccessful attempts – what not to do
Admittedly I have almost black brown fingers, but I bought a kit, and I followed the instructions to the letter. It would have been quicker to simply buy a carton of mustard and cress in my local supermarket….
More links re urban farming
If you are interested in urban farming you could read this Saucy Dressings’ post about this urban cheesery, also in London.
Or you could read this fascinating account of the battle to save Istanbul’s urban farms (the Yedikule Gardens) – go here.