Food & Beverage

Larson Smith and Michelle Dineen of Sunshine Cove Farm, Photo by Tom Bagley

35 Shades of Micro Green: The Tinier the Leaf the Healthier to Eat

By Gail Greco

The grab-and-add simplicity of flavor-enhancing microgreens speeds cooking prep in my High Country kitchen. No bigger than a pinky, they’re micro in size, macro in benefits, with experts touting them as the most nutritious veggies on the planet. And they’re uniquely available from a local grower, Sunshine Cove Farm in Valle Crucis (www.sunshinecovefarm.com).

A handful served raw satisfies a veggie course that’s easy-peasy healthy in a snap—no cutting board or paring knife in sight. You can stop right there, or with only a tad more effort, be foodalicious: fennel greens and microbasil whirled into my pesto… mustard greens whipped tangy into my white-bean dip for soft-pretzels and a beer chaser… beetroot and cress greens egged on in a skillet for breakfast. Tonight, it’s a rainbow of micro veggies (that kids won’t detect) tucked into a bacon-ranch mac-and-cheese… for dessert, nutty/sweet sunflower greens baked in a strawberry bread. And why not?

“They go with anything, and pack markedly more nutrients than their full-grown vegetables,” answers Larson Smith, Sunshine Cove (SCF) owner since 2017. He operates the small-footprint farm, or microgreenery, with partner Michelle Dineen, growing up to 35 varieties all year long. “Pea tendrils are just springing up,” reports Smith. Hmmm… swirl them into my creamy baked potato soup? Drop them into a carrot-mushroom stirfry? Varying flavors inspire new dishes and refresh faves. 

Microgreens boast familiar names, such as spinach and cauliflower, as well as heirlooms, including mizuna (Aztec) red amaranth. That’s because technically they are those vegetables at seedling stage, with leaves unfurling cheerfully—lacy and fluffy, floppy tender—mostly in shades of green. Popping up in trays of enriched soil, they stretch across a giant greenhouse like a magic carpet of life.

Sunlight blasts the greens with detoxifying phytonutrients, which in humans can foil viral infections, douse inflammation, improve brain function, reduce blood pressure, balance hormones, and offer vitamins/minerals for everyday well-being. According to a University of Maryland College of Agriculture study, microgreens have four to 40 times more nutrients than their mature veggie counterparts.

A kapow of healthy compounds are found in other SCF small-sized crops, as well: palm-size eggplants, peppers, and one-inch eggs from a perky flock of quail. But it’s as much as 30 pounds weekly of microgreens that keep the farm busiest—a huge yield since each green is lighter than a feather! 

The farm touts its carefully crafted culinary mixes as “unlimited meal expanders.” For example, kohlrabi and purple radish greens in Purple Haze change up the flavor in, say, salmon or crab cakes. Blowing Rock’s Dawn Sullivan is convinced that SCF’s Pico de Gallo Mix (microherb cilantro, tangerine gem, onion greens) “is why everyone devours my smoked brisket tacos. The leaves, plopped on top of the filling, give the tacos a delightful and unexpected citrusy tang, balancing the woodsy meat and spicy sauce. As a great convenience food that goes a long way, it’s this kind of simplicity that makes you a better cook!” Sullivan is a regular shopper at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market, and is currently working on her own cookbook for family and friends, who are eager to know her secrets. The Pico mix will surely be one of them!

SCF veggies can be purchased at Be Natural Market, the High Country Food Hub, local farmers’ markets, and familiar restaurants, including Vidalia, Joy Bistro, Wild Craft, Rowlands, Booneshine, and Lost Province. Vidalia chef owner Sam Ratchford works with whatever SCF brings—“Farmer’s Choice,” he calls it—for edible garnishes, spring rolls, dressings, and entrees, such as steak pepper-seasoned with micro arugula. Speaking of farm-to-table, SCF greens have also been served by Vivian Howard, PBS-TV cooking show host and owner of Chef and the Farmer Eatery in Kinston, NC.

Boone resident Karl Mohr is a husky 6’3” guy you wouldn’t think could be satisfied chowing down on a bowl of teeny leaves. But he’s passionate about them. After work, either on a construction project or spinning tunes as a disc jockey for his Mohr Fun Events business, he adds olive oil and a squeeze of lemon to a two-ounce SCF Market Mix, “and I call it dinner! Once you taste ‘em, you get it. This is not rabbit food.”

Mohr believes, “Quality is what makes the difference so that you’ll eat them at all, and why Sunshine Cove is so important to our area.” He’s coaxing his five-year-old daughter Nola to eat them, too. “I’m getting there,” he shrugs.

While many children wrinkle their noses at certain foods, even miniature kale, collard, and chard, nutritionists suggest kids will eat what they grow. “We have kits for DIYers, who supplement quantity and variety with our packaged greens,” adds Dineen. 

Health coach Sandra Diaz of Todd eats the greens all day, as snacks, too. “A painless way to get your veggies,” she advises. “It’s shocking how good they are for you.”

Broccoli greens, packaged separately, or in the SCF blends Mediterranean Mix and Wasabi Heat, contain sulforaphane, a serious cancer preventative/cell-growth inhibitor. Kitty Rosati, Durham resident and author of The New York Times bestseller The Rice Diet, gets them for a friend battling cancer. She applauds SCF for “offering food as medicine.”

And what about as a life force for the soul? Traditional veggies are the cornerstone for many delicious meals. They add fiber and their own nutrient value, so the peeler and grater stay nearby. But, microgreens—strong as they are delicate and dainty—add a culinary grace to the kitchen no other veggie can, proving the timeless adage: Good things really do come in small packages!

Gail Greco is a multi-media food journalist, author of 15 cookbooks and recipe videos, and former executive producer/host of the James Beard award-winning national PBS-TV series, Country Inn Cooking.


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