I remember sowing ragi (finger millet) grains in little containers of soil and watching them grow as a run-up to the gollu (doll display) preparations during Dasara. It remains one of my fondest childhood memories.
Once the green shoots grew to about three-fourth of an inch, we would excitedly use them to create ‘parks’ and ‘lawns’ in our gollu. The shoots, of course, would keep growing during the 10-day period of Dasara. By the end it would eclipse the little toy cars, vans and figurines we had placed between them. We would blissfully discard the greens after the festival.
Well, that was when we knew little about microgreens – that the little seedlings of ragi were filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All we cared about was its decorative value.
Varied and Easy to Grow
So, what exactly are microgreens and why are they so popular?
Simply put, microgreens are seedlings of herbs and vegetables, somewhere between a sprout and a baby plant. Also called microherbs or vegetable confetti, they are usually 1-2 inches tall and go directly from the pot to the plate. It is believed that microgreens were first used around the 1980s-1990s in California and since then have scaled new heights of popularity all over the world. Some of the easiest microgreens to grow are broccoli, kale, basil, amaranth, finger millet (ragi), wheat, mustard, fenugreek (methi), radish, pea shoots and arugula.
These young green vegetables can be grown easily indoors – on window sills and balconies – and outdoors, whether in the kitchen garden or backyard. Unlike sprouts, they need both soil and sunlight to grow. While there are many companies that offer starter kits to grow microgreens, it is simple enough for you to do on your own. All you need are the seeds, soil and a tray or a another flat container. For the latter you can use either a conventional pot or any disposable dish you get when you order takeaway, or something that may have been lying around your kitchen. Just make sure the container has small holes to allow the excess water to drain out.
Fill the container halfway with soil or pot mix and then scatter the microgreen seeds. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil/pot mix and spray a little water with a mister. It will take between three and seven days for the first sprouts to appear. Ensure that the soil is moist all the time. In summer, you may have to use the mister twice a day. The container needs to receive at least 3-4 hours of bright sunlight. As the sprouts gradually grow and the first true leaves appear, you can harvest the microherbs with scissors. To hasten germination, especially of fenugreek and finger millet, soak the seeds in water for about 12-24 hours prior to sowing.
The process is relatively hassle-free and should take 2-3 weeks depending on microgreen you grow. So, if you are looking to spend your summers purposefully, growing microgreens help in more ways than one!
Wholesome and Nutritious
One of the main reasons microherbs are popular is that they are nutrient-dense and have more vitamins and compounds like polyphenols than their mature counterparts. Most of them are rich in vitamin A, C, E, and K, as well as enzymes essential for healthy skin, bones and overall physical and mental health. Polyphenols are antioxidants known to improve heart health and have a positive effect on conditions such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Most of them are also rich in minerals such as iron, potassium, zinc, copper and magnesium, which again support essential functions like fluid balance and keep the immune system healthy.
Different microgreens have their own set of unique benefits. For example, red cabbage microgreens are cardioprotective and aid the absorption of iron, while coriander microgreens are loaded with beta carotene that aid the immune system. Basil microgreens are rich in vitamin K, which is essential for blood clotting and has slow osteoporosis. Fenugreek microgreens are replete with phytonutrients, such as choline, which has antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, and lactation-inducing properties. It is also rich in fiber and protein. Wheatgrass (wheat microgreens) is a superfood used to build immunity, boost metabolism and combat various diseases.
Versatility and Useful
Although tiny, microgreens are filled with flavor, and add color, crunch and texture to just about any dish. In fact, you can use them to enhance the flavors of any savory dish, including soups, salads and sandwiches, making them a favorite culinary ingredient for many. Add them as a garnish to a summer salad of cherry tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and ricotta cheese, or to a salad of roasted beetroot and raw honey. You can also include them in your morning juices and smoothies to boost their nutritional quotient.
Drop them in pasta salads and summer-friendly cold soups. Summer is also a time for celebrations and get-togethers. So, don’t feel guilty if you gorge on that extra cheese platter, kabab or ravioli. Just ensure that they are topped with some microgreens to make them more wholesome and healthy!
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