Might of the microgreen

A diet rich in vegetables like the shoots of herbs, grains and veggies picked just after the first leaves appear, can be far more nutritious than eating mature produce finds Moeena Halim 

Over the years, microgreens have made their way to several of the city’s fine dining restaurants. A dash of the purple-tinged red cabbage shoots, sprigs of micro mint or the pungent mustard cress transforms your platter of plain Jane salad. But don’t dismiss the microgreen as that expensive little shoot chefs use for garnishing their heavily priced dishes just yet.

Pan-seared sea bass with tomato

While the kings of the kitchen have been experimenting with the baby leaves for the sake of innovation, nutritionists suggest that it is healthier to consume microgreens than to eat the vegetable, herb or grain in its mature form.

Small but potent
“Because they’re harvested when they’re still very tiny, and before they’re fully mature, nutrients in microgreens are extremely condensed. Microgreens are also very high in protein, which is supposed to help with the growth of the plant,” explains Deepika Agarwal, senior dietician, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.

Usually harvested within a week of planting the seeds, microgreens are about two to three inches long. “Most of the nutrients and vitamins that the seeds contain is maintained in these early shoots as the plant isn’t allowed to grow too much,” adds Pavani Keta, dietician, Nova Specialty Hospitals. Calling the microgreen a superfood, Keta recommends the delicate greens for their high Vitamin E, C and K content.

Truffle flavoured chicken roulade with tomato chutney and beetroot at Westin Hotel. Pics/Nimish Dave

Best served raw
How you handle fragile microgreen is extremely important. Chef Ajay Chopra, executive chef, The Westin Mumbai Garden City, describes them as being as delicate as babies. “The best way to serve them is raw, as exposure to heat can kill the flavour as well as the nutrients,” says Chopra, who grows his own set of microgreens with the help of Westin’s horticulturalist. He recommends a mix of baby spinach leaves, different lettuce leaves and your selection of microgreens for a quick healthy fix.

If you must cook your microgreens, stick to tougher stuff like beet and radish leaves. “These are often used to make subzis in Indian homes,” Agarwal points out. According to Chopra, pea shoots can withstand a bit of sautéing too. “If you must serve your greens with a different take, add a dash of sea salt and lightly sauté them. But remember, the entire point of serving microgreens is to have a fresh meal, so don’t overcook,” he advises.

Take your pick
Although about 85 per cent microgreens are deliciously flavoured, not every vegetable's leaves and shoots can be eaten in their immature form. "Cauliflower shoots are bitter and they stink," warns Chopra, who loves using micro coriander, micro mint, purple cress, watercress, and the Asian favourite shiso cress. Here's what some of the mightiest microgreens have to offer:

1. Mustard cress: Also a favourite of Chopra’s, these little greens are rich in Vitamin C and K, and are distinctive for their sharp pungent flavour.

2. Wheatgrass: These easy-to-grow microgreens are extremely high in iron, making them great for those suffering from anaemia. A good swig of juiced wheatgrass goes a long way, says Keta.

3. Red cabbage: Keta recommends these for their high Vitamin C, anti-oxidants and anti-cancer agents.

4. Radish: Agarwal recommends the microgreens of veggies such as radish, beets and so on, which are rich in beta-carotine and iron.

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