Teeny tiny salad is going to be massive this year. Here's how to grow it, eat it and present it like a pro.
Bigger isn't always better. In fact, baby versions of things are almost always the best in our opinion – canapés, sliders, kittens, people; and salad-sceptics might be glad to know that they can now add leafy veg to the list. Yes, microgreens and microherbs are becoming huge. In popularity, at least.
What are they?
Microgreens are the tiny seedlings of normal adult plants, harvested only a week or two after germination when the very first shoots and leaves have grown through. These tender young leaves have a more intense flavour than their parents, perfect for perking up ordinary salads or for adding a final, cheffy flourish.
They're also beautiful as well as diddy, coming in a range of vibrant colours and delicate shapes that bring Instagram appeal to even the most humdrum dish. Beans on toast with a sprinkling of red butterfly sorrel? Hashtag that baby.
Where to find them...
There's a huge world of tiny greens and herbs out there, from familiar varieties like cress and pea shoots to the thoroughly exotic red amaranth, purple basil and red mustard frills. Ask your local greengrocer, try an organic food shop or check out an online supplier like Fine Foods Specialist, which has a big range.
Can I grow them?
Yep – even you, cactus killer. Because they're only grown for a matter of days, microgreens are far less prone to pests and problems than your average veg and so perfect for an impatient gardener (or a child). Not since the days of growing cress in an eggshell has DIY salad been so easy.
Outdoors they work well grown in lengths of guttering, but for urban growers the Royal Horticultural Society advises using an old food tub as a makeshift seed tray that will fit on your windowsill. Keep them warm, water them regularly and check the taste while they grow, snipping the leaves off with scissors to use them as you need.
Microgreens wilt fast so you should ideally pick them just before eating, but if needed you can keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag misted with water for around a day.
How to eat them...
As a general rule microgreens don't need cooking. In fact, cooking can burn them and impair the flavour, so just wash and eat raw. Those punchy flavours are at their best when they're very fresh, mixed into a salad or added as a garnish just before serving.
Micro versions of popular herbs like coriander and basil are less bulky but with a more concentrated flavour than their grown-up counterparts, so be warned: a little goes a long way.
A few to try...
Both oniony and garlicky at the same time, these skinny scallions look innocent but pack quite the punch. Add them to dips, stir them into mashed potato or sprinkle over scrambled eggs for a vampire-repelling brunch.
As fiery as the name suggests, wasabi leaf starts off mild but soon heats up. It pairs beautifully with sushi and Japanese-inspired dishes, but use it sparingly unless you want to give your sinuses a surprise.
One for the Liquorice Allsorts and ouzo fans, micro fennel brings maximum aniseed taste to your plate. Sprinkle its feathery fronds on a chicken salad or use it instead of dill to complement smoked fish.
How the foodies do it...
Transforming a humble hangover cure into a work of art (AND a hangover cure) with just a little sprinkle. Magic.
Not exactly like Pizza Express, is it?
Proof that there is nothing classier than putting herbs in your dessert – unless they're micro herbs. Très chic.