Bread & Brew: Microgreens for the masses
You may have noticed it on your Instagram feed — so many plates of beautiful food are topped with a perfect bunch of tiny little greens.
Far from the gross-to-eat parsley garnish of the '90s — these are microgreens, a fresh, healthy ingredient that can either top a dish or be part of its magic sauce.
The microgreens come from Nate Gilds' business, Gilded Greens, which the 30-something horticulturist founded in his North Portland grow space, not far from his home.
"A chef friend of mine a couple years ago urged me to try out growing microgreens," says Gilds, who drives his Toyota van around town making personal deliveries to chefs.
"I show up to a kitchen and let the product sell itself when they see the fresh-cut product themselves and taste it."
Microgreens aren't just small veggies. They're immature greens, harvested less than a month after germination, when the plants are up to 2 inches tall. The stem, seed leaves and first set of true leaves are all edible.
Nearly a year into the business, Gilds is working with a handful of chefs across the city, hand-delivering the orders of 10 to 12 varieties he grows by hand with organic practices, no chemicals or herbicides.
Whereas chefs may otherwise order their microgreens along with the rest of their produce delivery, "I show up with the delivery and can answer any question because I grew it myself."
The Gilded Greens grow space is a couple hundred square feet, outfitted with stainless steel racks with greens that grow vertically, each individually lit.
While alfalfa sprouts might come to mind, microgreens are grown in soil while sprouts germinate in water.
Gilds is proud to have formed relationships with local chefs:
• At Sweedeedee his sunflower and radish microgreens are used on a couple of sandwiches.
• At Urdaneta, cress is used with McFarland springs trout with root vegetable escabeche and white truffle olive oil caviar.
• At Alto Bajo, the chef uses sorrel on the chaco flan, as well as nasturtium with a mole dish, and micro cilantro with the ceviche dish and tacos.
• At Brass Tacks Sandwiches, the chef uses Hong Vit radish on oven-roasted turkey with bacon, red onion and tomato.
• At Burnside Brewing the chef uses Hong Vit radish with smoked quail with bourbon maple glaze and a parsnip pancake.
"It's the compact kind of cute presence that they have on a plate," Gilds says, explaining the appeal.
"They're small, add color, texture and shape to the dish that may or may not echo the flavors. But the color is somethng that stands out. Like an artist may use."
Microgreens and edible flowers — which he also plans to grow soon — are finding their way into the cocktail scene as well.
Gild's shiso and nasturtium leaves have been used in a cocktail at Han Oak, and his radish microgreens in a cocktail at La Moule.
Some may call it a frou-frou fad, but Gilds believes it's here to stay — namely because of its incredible health benefit.
Studies show microgreens have exponentially higher levels of nutrients and antioxident content than their fully grown counterparts.
Here's a recipe designed by Gilds' wife, Karen Locke, author of "High-Proof PDX: A Spirited Guide to Portland's Craft Distilling Scene":
February Fakeout: Anise Hyssop Microgreen Cocktail
2 oz. Prairie Organic Vodka
4-5 dashes The Bitter Housewife lime coriander bitters
1/2 lemon wedge
1/4 ounce simple syrup
Gilded Greens anise hyssop microgreens
Gently muddle a few lime wedges with a very generous pinch of Gilded Greens anise hyssop. Add the vodka, dashes of bitters, simple syrup and ice. Shake for a slow count of 10 or until the outside of the shaker frosts up. Strain cocktail into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with seltzer water and garnish with lemon wheel and anise hyssop.