During the cooler months of the year it is easy to fall into a pattern of comfort. The body craves hearty meals and such vegetables become more and more readily abundant in the garden and pantry. Brassicas and root vegetables fill the patch, while the larder is stocked with pumpkin and potatoes.
We also find ourselves gravitating towards pasta, rice and bread. Carbo-loading now isn’t something just to get you through three kids birthdays parties in a 24 hour period, it feels like an essential part of human hibernation. But when we begin the feel the slide into a warm food coma, we try to distract ourselves…. with sprouts and micro-greens.
Sprouts and micro greens are two types of produce which can be grown almost exclusively indoors during the cooler times of the year, in fact any time of the year. It’s always a psychological boost to be able to grow something fresh, nutritious and crunchy without having rain funnel down the back of your underpants. What’s more this is the type of gardening that can take place on something as small as a windowsill and a kitchen sink.
We still get customers coming in store asking to purchase micro herb seeds unaware that they are just basic seeds harvested at an early age. Rather than rub their faces in their shocking ignorance, we hand over the seeds of choice that it is then their responsibility to grow only to micro size.
A micro herb - or micro green - is any herb or leafy green that is harvested no more than a few weeks after germination. Rather than possessing the stronger flavour of a mature herb or vegetable, the taste of micro green is more refined and subtle. When this is combined with the watering crunch of the young (micro) seedling, you then have a powerful culinary tool.
Growing micro herbs is dead easy. Choose your variety to taste, propagate them, and once the seedlings have germinated, they are ready to be harvested. Taken so young, micro herbs seem mostly exempt from the pest and disease problems more prevalent with mature produce, and only need a windowsill and small propagation tray to grow.
Things you’ll need:
Seed raising mix
1. There are a number of varieties most conducive to be grown as micro greens. These include Mustard, Endive, Tatsoi, Radish, Watercress, Spinach, Peas, Cabbage and Basil. The reason these are often used can be put down to a combination of flavour and (more so) their speed of
2. Organise a seed tray and fill with seed raising mix. This drains even more freely than standard potting mix as it contains a splash of sand through it.
3. Growing micro herbs involves the same approach as when propagating any seed. Sow seeds at a depth of half their diameter. You don’t need to be regimented about the spacing of the seeds as they will all manage to get to micro herb stage without any real impediment.
4. After propagation, the main responsibility is to keep the mix damp, without soaking it. It will therefore require frequent, short waterings, a couple of times a day, or once a day or two if using a mini-greenhouse to prevent evaporation
5. Once the seeds having germinated, we normally wait until the seedlings begin to shoot their second set of leaves, usually within 2-3 weeks, before retrieving the scissors to harvest.
6. By staggering your sowing schedule you should have a continuous supply of fancy garnishes using only the smallest of spaces.
Sprouting has become a favourite solution for a little winter freshness, but need not be limited only to the winter. Much like marinated goat’s cheese, sprouts never go out of season and should be enjoyed year around. Unlike marinated goat’s cheese, however, the health benefits of sprouts are tremendous. They are easy to digest and packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Evidently, these tender young morsels are the lamb of the vegetable world.
Like so many things in the culinary world, you can get lost in an abundance of products. There are some great sprouting mixes out there and plenty of cool toys, but I generally try to follow the KISS method, that is, Keep It Simple Stupid. The rule of thumb seems to be that the bigger the seed the easier it is to sprout. A great place to start is with lentils, as they are easy to find and readily available just about everywhere on the planet.
Things you’ll need:
Organic whole lentils
1. Pour about 1/2 cup of lentils into the jar and add about two cups of water.
2. Put the cheese cloth on the top of the jar and secure it with a rubber band. Swirl the water around to rinse the lentils, much like washing rice. Dump the water out, it should drain right through the cheese cloth and repeat.
3. After the second rinsing cycle, drain out the remaining water and add another 2 cups of water to let the lentils sit in overnight.
4. The next morning dump the water out and repeat the process of rinsing and draining. Once the lentils appear to be well drained, turn the jar upside down and rest it in a bowl that will allow the jar to remain at a slight angle.
5. Continue this process of rinsing and draining a couple of times per day and always return the jar to an upside down position in the bowl that will help drain out any excess water
6. Sprouts will start to form pretty quickly and it is a matter of taste and preference as to how long you let them grow. Once you are satisfied with their size and taste, empty the sprouts from the jar and pat them dry with a paper towel.
7. Store the sprouts in a clean container in the fridge. Laying a piece of paper towel at the bottom of the container will help to absorb any moisture and extend the sprouts shelf life. They should be good for about five days, in the meantime you can get another cycle going so that you are never without them