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Microgreens add unique flavour to dishes

I should have realized gardening would be one of my callings back in Grade 1. A science experiment where we had to sprout seeds saw me faithfully watching over mine.

I can still recall the fascination of watching that first sign of life emerge from the previously dormant seed. I just thought it was miraculous a plant was growing from this seed.

When my sprouts were tall enough, I potted them and proudly took them home. My mother suggested I plant the young plants in the garden in an area I could call my own. Once planted, I thought Mother Nature had nothing on me. Later the same day, my father stopped to pull a few weeds from the garden as he came home from work. Yes, he pulled out my plants! I don't think I ever saw my father more remorseful.

My little story offers a segue to today's column on growing your own microgreens -- sprouted seeds or legumes. Microgreens are different from sprouts in that they are grown in a soil-free potting mix as opposed to water for the sprouts. While the seed, root and stem are eaten with sprouts, with microgreens, you cut off the stem at soil level and do not eat the root or seed.

The seeds were connected to a salmonella scare with sprouts that has surfaced on several occasions. According to Health Canada, between 1996 and 2005 raw alfalfa sprouts and mung bean sprouts contaminated with salmonella have been linked to a number of outbreaks in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, as well as in the United States.

The Health Canada website also discusses potential causes of the salmonella: Scientists believe the most likely source of contamination is the seeds that are used to grow the sprouts. Since you do not eat the seed in microgreens, the health hazard is not the same as with sprouts.

Microgreens have been made popular by gourmet chefs in major restaurants. The chefs are always looking for something new and interesting to add distinctive flavour to dishes. Microgreens fill that bill nicely and can be used as garnishes for a punch of flavour or as a salad themselves.

There are many crops to try as microgreens. Lettuces, spinach, mustard, radish and arugula are among a few. Other vegetables such as broccoli, beets, celery, cabbage and even carrots can add interesting flavours to dishes or make great salad blends.

Microgreens are extremely easy to grow and can be grown on any sunny kitchen counter or windowsill. All you need is a shallow tray, some seeds, sterile potting mix and water. I like using the plastic clamshells bakery products come in. Dampen the potting mix, but not so that it is sopping wet. It should be moist, but not dripping. Fill the tray or clamshell with 2.5 centimetres of the potting mix.

Plant the seeds as per the instructions on the packet. I recommend using certified organic seeds, which you can find in most garden centres or online from a supplier such as Mumm's Sprouting Seeds, a Saskatchewan company with a good selection of certified organic seeds.

When planting the seeds, try to get them in a single layer and not touching each other. Use a spray bottle to water the seeds and soilless mix. If the tray or clamshell does not have drainage holes, aim for keeping the soil moist, but never wet. You can always punch some holes, but it really is not necessary if you are careful not to overwater.

You should be ready to do your harvesting in about five days, but taste your microgreens at different stages. If you like the taste at a particular stage, harvest and enjoy. When harvesting, cut off the plants at the soil level, but be careful not to include any of the potting soil itself. Harvest the plants daily until no new sprouts are emerging.

Some of my favourites include radishes and celery. I love to add these two microgreens to salads.

The great thing is you can try a new variety every two weeks. Having new flavours from your own homegrown produce adds interest to meals. Just make certain you tell your nearest and dearest they aren't weeds.

 

-- Postmedia News

 

Gerald Filipski is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America.