AS WELL as being the speediest possible route to leafy greens, micro greens are flavour bombshells. Added to salads of larger leaves they impart zing and liveliness, but they can also be used as a salad in themselves or as a flavouring – they bring a punch of vibrant taste to whatever they are added to.
Micro greens are just tiny seedlings of plants we usually harvest when they are more fully grown. They are sown into compost and grown in light like any normal seedling, but harvested just a week or so after germination when they've produced their first pair of leaves.
The plants that work best as micro greens are those with intense flavour and/or colour. Coriander, basil, fennel, radish and the oriental leaves are all great to try. At micro stage they contain the essence of their fully grown selves, only more concentrated, so you get a burst of flavour, stronger and often cleaner than it would be if you left the plant to grow to maturity.
Cutting them so young makes micros feel like a real luxury ingredient – all, of course, would grow on to larger harvests – but that intensity of flavour is the reward, and it comes very quickly.
Growing micro greens is very easy – easier, in fact, than growing plants to greater maturity, since there just isn't time for any pests and problems to get a grip before the leaves are harvested.
This makes it a particularly useful technique for usually troublesome crops such as rocket, which is stalked by flea beetle, or basil, which can rot off. Many of the plants in this category are herbs, so try growing your favourites in this way to see their fresh, lively side.
Their youth makes them delicate, so this is not an ingredient for long, slow cooking, but more for adding at the last moment for a little sprinkle of something special.
HOW TO GROW MICRO GREENS
Fill your guttering or seed tray with seed-sowing soil and push down gently with the flat of your hand so that it's well compacted.
Sow a line of seeds down the centre, taking a pinch at a time and distributing them quite thickly but not clumped together.
Use a watering can with a fine rose attachment to water them. Take care not to allow the water to puddle or the seeds may be washed out of line. Water very lightly but often. Although micro greens generally prefer sun, they grow for such a short time that a little shade is not a problem, so place them wherever you have space.
The seeds should be germinated and ready to harvest after about seven days in the summer, or a little longer in winter. Slow germinators such as coriander will be ready in about 10 days in summer.
Pick the micro greens when they're still tiny, pulling them out of the soil, roots and all, and washing before eating. Ideally, harvest them just before eating; if you have to store them, put them in a plastic bag, mist with water and place in the fridge for up to a day.
SOW IN GUTTERS
All micro leaves are grown in the same way. Short lengths of guttering are perfect for the job, particularly if you are sowing several different types.
Guttering is cheap and widely available, can be cut to whatever length you choose, and contains just the right amount of soil. You could also use seed trays.
Choose a fine-textured, peat-free, seed-sowing soil; you are going to harvest the leaves when they are little so you really want a nice smooth surface to make harvesting easier and cleaner.
If you use guttering, leave about 5cm at either end, or tape up the ends to stop the soil flowing out when you water.
TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS
Mark: "To ensure a good variety of micros, I use two lengths of guttering. I sow one with quarters of coriander, rocket, radish and giant red mustard, labelling each quarter. I sow the other guttering in the same way 10 days later. The second sowing should be ready to harvest just as I am coming to the end of using the first, at which point I resow to ensure a successive harvest."
Lia: "One of the main drawbacks in sowing micro greens is the cost of the seed: you get through an awful lot more than when you're harvesting more traditionally. I allow a couple of plants to flower in the garden and go to seed, then gather the seed on a dry day in early autumn and store it in an airtight container."
Mark: "Never use parsnips for micro greens; as seedlings they are poisonous."
© The Telegraph
RECIPE with micro greens
CORIANDER ON BAKED MACKEREL
The fresh, strong taste of coriander micro greens works beautifully with this oily fish, which is in season now.
2 whole mackerel, gutted and cleaned
2 bay leaves
Dash of olive oil
Handful of coriander micro greens
Preheat oven to 190°C.
Lay a bay leaf along the inside of each fish and rub a little olive oil over the skin.
Place on a greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the skin is browned and the flesh is cooked.
Sprinkle generously with coriander micros and eat immediately with a green salad.