Micro-greens- A Sunflower and Buckwheat garden

Part of having what I like to call a “living kitchen”, is growing your own. Now, that can be your ferments all bubbling and souring away on the counter top, or it can be produce grown in your yard or container gardens/window sills. Sadly, not all of us have the space to grow a veggie garden. Sadder still, some may not have the time. But we can all sprout and grow our own micro greens to increase the vitality and chutzpah of our food. And because they can be grown indoors, even if it’s 20 below or 40 above outside, you can still have fresh greens that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

The other wonderful thing about growing your own- of anything- but including micro greens, is that you ABSOLUTELY know exactly what that plant has been exposed to, so there are  no questions about the “organic” standards here.  Also, you pick as go, making this food the freshest possible. Fresh food, just picked, is the most vibrant, the most nutritious, the most living food going- which puts all that great energy in to your body and gives you the glow.

What are micro greens?? 

A micro green” is the term used to describe most any green vegetable or herb that has edible leaves and that is harvested just after the first leaves of the plant have sprouted (the coteleydon growth stage- in case you are ever asked on Jeopardy.) At this stage the seed has only just germinated, and the plant’s root and leaf structures haven’t fully developed into producing a “seedling”.

Micro greens differ from sprouts in that, sprouts are grown using only water, whereas microgreens are grown with soil. Micro greens absorb minerals from the soil as they grow, and have undergone a greater degree of photosynthesis, therefore, increasing their nutritional content. They also have a higher fibre content.

Nutritional and Health benefits

This is a tricky one, as the jury is still out. There is plenty of traditional knowledge passed around, which touts the sprout as being the most nutritious thing going. I have always bought the story, as I’ve understood it for years. As it goes, the nutrients of the seed (which we want for ourselves) are normally locked away by the seeds’ own enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors preserve the nutrients for the seed until the time when the conditions are right for germination, so it has what it needs to develop in to a seedling (before it is properly able to photosynthesise). When we sprout, we are liberating these nutrients, making them easier for us to absorb and utilize then they were in the dormant seed. Raw foodists use this principle when soaking nuts and seeds before consuming them. A soaked nut or seed is referred to as “activated”, as it now has the potential to sprout or germinate.

Now, some scientific evaluations have had difficulty proving that sprouts have a higher nutritional value then their adult counterparts. However, not all that is beneficial in food is vitamins and minerals. So while the jury IS out on wether sprouts have more nutrition per say – there has been scientific evidence to suggest that sprouts contain great amounts of special “phytochemicals” that can have a wide range of health benefits.  For example, it has been found that the cancer fighting compound in broccoli- sulforaphane– is actually much higher in broccoli sprouts than in broccoli. The importance of phytochemicals and their identification is in very early stages of understanding. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of big money going in to this research, so we are going to have to trust our bodies and our instincts when it comes to this for the time being. Sprouts make you feel great- there is NO doubt.

Let’s get sprouting! 

My favourite micro greens are sunflower and buckwheat. Reason being: the seeds are cheap and easy to come by, they grow relatively quickly (1 week or so from seed to green in warm weather) and they are tender and delicious. I use them everywhere. I definitely put them in my green smoothies, but the obvious are salads, wraps etc. I also like to use them as a garnish on as many other dishes as possible. That includes things like soups and casseroles. Before serving I just put a big handful on the top of my dish. They may wilt a little, but that doesn’t deter me one bit. That being said, I never cook them. Exposure to higher temperatures does reduce their nutritional value and vitality- and besides… they are so mild and lovely- always just add them raw.

Micro greens grown from herbs have amazing concentrated flavours and are often used in restaurants for their aesthetic beauty and strong tastes. Seeds for these types of micro greens tend to be a bit more expensive, and some take a while to grow to the stage where they are large enough to harvest. I haven’t tended to focus on growing them much. One thing I DO do, is I let my brassica family (broccoli) vegetables/greens go to seed in the garden. They produce A LOT of seeds. I keep some for the next planting, and the rest I mix in to my micro green mix to add some variety. A good place to buy seeds for micro greens in Australia, is Select Organic, or alternatively, sunflower and buckwheat seeds (in their black shells) are generally available for this purpose at your local health food/bulk shop.

Here are some I prepared earlier. 

Step 1

There are a couple of different methods going around- this is the one I’ve used. Get yourself a standard seedling tray or shallow growing pot. You don’t need much soil, so it doesn’t need to be very deep.

This kind of seedling tray is available from most nurseries and garden supply shops.

Step 2 

Put a thin (maybe 1 1/2 – 2 inches deep) layer of soil in the bottom of the tray. I use an organic potting mix. Organic is ALWAYS best. Potting mix is preferable to just getting dirt from the garden, because you  may end up growing some other things in with your micro greens (weeds/grass etc) that you aren’t wanting to eat, and then you have to pick them all out… bit of a hassle.

La tray au dirt.

Step 3

Sprinkle your seed mix on to the layer of soil.

Dirty garden hands are good for your heart.    

 

Really pack those seeds in there, don’t be shy! 

Step 4

Cover the seeds up with another layer of soil, not too deep, maybe 1 inch? Then, give them a good watering!

Step 5

Keep an eye on those babies for the next week or so. I generally have mine outside during this stage, but under shelter. I find that if they are in direct sun, they can dry out (where I live it can get particularly hot at times). Conversely, if it’s raining a lot, it can make germination difficult as the seeds can rot. They need to be moist, without being boggy, and have adequate drainage and warmth. Sunlight for photosynthesis isn’t really necessary, although a little can perk up the micro greens once they’re out. In the winter, you may find you need to sprout indoors. In my area, they will still sprout outside in winter, but they can take AGES. In other climates, you don’t have a hope, so in the house is a must. Make yourself a little sprouting area, where you don’t mind a bit of dirt falling or water dripping. I sometimes put my trays on baking sheets if they are coming indoors, to minimize mess.

When they first start to sprout, the soil may lift up and they will have their outer shells still around their bursting little heads. Keep watering them, brush some of the dirt away gently, and wait, we aren’t there yet… I may decide to put them in the sun at this stage (or a window if inside) to help them really come in to life…

And BAM! Within a day or two of sprouting out of their shells, you’ll have this little laptop garden of gorgeousness! Ready to eat and sprinkle and enjoy. Important to note: because micro greens and sprouts have such an intimate relationship with soil (even though sprouts are grown in water, they are still often dirty from a farm etc…) it is important to wash them before eating them. I can be a bit of a token-rinser, but it is really very important. There is a lot of bacteria in the soil, especially good quality soil with animal manure in it. So please wash your greens.

Step 6

I keep my greens growing until I want to use them, so that they are fresh fresh fresh. I sometimes bring a tray in to my kitchen and have it on the baking sheet in the window or on the counter, because I just love looking at them and having all that young life growing around me. Also, I’ve put a utility shelf on my landing outside my kitchen door where I put bowls of fermenting things and sometimes too trays of micro greens, so they are out of the way, under cover, but easy to access. OR keep them outside… whatever works for you. Just grab your scissors and cut off what you need!

Now if you’re really clever, you’ll have started a new tray when the first tray has started to show signs of action. That way you never run out of fresh live sprouts, which, become addictive, I promise you. I try to be good, and have a tray always going… sometimes I fall behind and I end up buying a bag from the markets, but then that usually kick starts me in to getting out there again. It literally takes 5 minutes to set up and 5 seconds to water every day. There is NO reason EVERYONE can’t be micro-greening. Kids love it too… it’s something I always get my little ones to help me with. Once you’ve harvested your whole tray, you can use your scissors to cut up the root bound soil, or simply rip it up, add a bit of fresh soil if needed (often not) and start again.

So, get yourself to the nursery- get yourself a couple of trays and some organic potting mix. Stop at the health food store on the way home- pick up some sunflower and buckwheat seeds, and start NOW. Yum yum yum. xo

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Kale chips

I was half way through finishing my next post, when I got hijacked by a whirlwind of highly motivated foodie-ism and experimenting that I felt compelled to share. In the last 48 hours I’ve made: a batch of my sprouted buckwheat raw cocao cereal, cashew yoghurt, these fermented corn flour tortilla-like breads for a mexican dinner party, slow cooked lamb stew, dosa mix, as well as few extra special breakfasts and dinners. I’ve been going off- and the kitchen’s a mess!

One of my favourite little garnishes/treats that I buy, is the salad sprinkles from Loving Earth, which are bits of their kale chips with other seeds and spices. I sprinkle it on every darned thing, and have thought, when I get the time, I’d like to try to make them myself. Well, the time is nigh in the garden, for all things kale. And when the spirit of the insatiably-busy-kitchen-witch takes you over, you don’t ask questions. You go with it.

My personal stash 

So, I don’t have recipe to go off of. Though I did go look up a recipe on another blog. The method and outcome were different than what I was going for, but, I could see there were no great big secrets to Kale chips.

First step- wash your kale and get rid of the stems

I’m currently growing a selection of Kale varieties: Siberian, Scotch and Cavolo nero. 

Next- I thought about the flavours I wanted in my chips/sprinkles. I really wanted something with some ZING! I have some preserved lemons left from last years lemon season (eeek! better get on to it and make more- we’re almost at the end of this season!!!) so they were definitely going in to the mix.

Last years citrus mix: preserved lemons, lemonades, limes and cumquats. I had 3 of these bad boys, this is the last one. 

Chilli, of course. Dill is going OFF in the garden, and is a great, unsung hero of the herb world. Garlic has just had it’s first harvest locally, and I picked up some absolutely beautiful purple stuff at the bulk shop the other day.

Feast for the eye. 

So then- I basically just chopped everything up, and placed it in the mortar. I added a whole lot of olive oil (don’t ask me how much), and then decided that my other FAVOURITE ingredient smokey paprika would go nicely, so dashed that in there (generously). More olive oil. Then remembered I had a bunch of walnuts/pepitas/brazil nuts soaked in the fridge. Chucked them in. Big blob of macadamia nut butter (for consistency mostly) and set about the task of pestle-ing the bejebus out of the lot.

Improvised dressing for the kale, mine needed to be thick and chunky.

Now this is not to say you have to go and work with these ingredients. You may not have preserved lemons, but lemon zest would work well. You may want to do a salt n’ vinegar type and use some balsamic and himalayan or other good quality salt. (I didn’t add salt to mine because the preserved lemons were done in a mountain of celtic sea salt.) What’s within reach in your kitchen/garden?  You may just want au natural kale with a splash of olive oil… go with what you’re craving.

Mix- the dressing in with kale. I wanted a generous amount throughout, so my kale was quite thoroughly covered. Then, get your 4 year old to stand on a stool and take your photo… cuz this stuff is messy- so no handling of cameras with those hands!

Time for the dehydrator/oven- Now, I made the VERY wise decision of investing in an Excalibur dehydrator about 5 years ago, and have never looked back. I make heaps of dehydrated crackers, cookies, pie crusts, and cereals in it- as well as drying herbs/fruit- AND I use it as incubator when making bread and yoghurt. I’ve even made kangaroo jerky in it!! It’s a great addition to your whole foods kitchen, so- I highly recommend getting one. If the price is a bit scary and you aren’t convinced you’ll use it, there are less expensive varieties out there. I even saw some at the local home cheap-o store for $40. The thing to look for, is a temperature gage. You want to be able to change the temperature to suit the needs of the food you are preparing. For example, if you are particularly concerned about the “raw” credentials of your food, you never want to dehydrate above 105 degrees farenheit  OR 41 degrees celcius. OR If you are making jerky or other dried meats, you need it to be at a high temperature to be food safe, etc…

So, I got my dressed kale in to my dehydrator, set it to the magic 105/41, and it’s in there as we speak making quite a wonderful smell.

Yum! 

If you don’t have the dehydrating technology, an oven can work too. What you will need to do, is to put the temperature as low as it can go, and keep the door open. The down side with the oven, is that it’s unreliable, you need to keep an eye on it, as it can easily get too hot and perhaps burn. You will also lose your “raw foodist” street cred. But work with what you got. Perhaps you do a few things in the oven and then realize how great and fun the world of dehydrating is, and you run out to your own home cheap-o or visit an on-line shop for the rolls royce-esc Excalibur. For oven dehydrating, I’d place the dressed kale on cookie sheets, and leave them for about 20- 30 mins, checking regularly.

SO, I’ll leave you there… Kale chips dehydrating away… the sweet anticipation and curiosity of how it’s all gonna turn out. I have a really great feeling about it, and I’ll definitely be updating you on the outcome. The moral of the story is: When compelled to kitchen witchery- DON’T HOLD BACK!!!! STOP EVERYTHING! GET IN THERE AND MAKE MAGIC… work with what you have and trust your instincts. These phases come and go, and hopefully, your pantry is full of kale chips and other goodies to see you through the dry spells when you are busy with your other endeavours.

 

 

Fermented flat bread/dosa

If there is one thing I’ve adopted into my regular repertoire over the last couple of years, that has completely changed my life  (indeed, a flat bread CAN change your life) -it’s been this wonderful low carb, high protein, unprocessed gem. Like many of you, I moved away from bread and the dear ol’ sandwich long ago, for a many reasons (the least of which was after eating the darned things every day for 12 years of school, they sort of lost their… charm). I also discovered I had wheat sensitivity and could only really eat spelt/rye bread, and in this regard, preferred the naturally fermented/leavened sourdough variety. While this is still nice for toast, it’s not great as a sandwich. It’s pretty dense and truthfully, I don’t enjoy eating such heavy starch/carb based meals anymore- so, when making a quick lunch at home or for work, I would often use wraps. I tried many store bought varieties. The Mountain bread ones had the least amount of crap in them, and I admit I still buy them from time to time, but let’s face it… has ANYONE successfully been able to eat a wrap with one of those things and not have them fall apart…? The other brands use varieties of humectants (made from glycerine usually), emulsifiers and gluten to give the wrap more elasticity.

They also tend to contain something which I try to avoid- and that is OILS. Oils used in commercially prepared processed foods are going to be of poor quality, there is no doubt. I plan on doing a whole post on oils, and the importance of good quality at all times, but for now, to avoid a major digression, let’s just make a blanket statement- that when we eat processed foods, there is going to be oil present- and that due to the manufacturing methods and processing, these are most often trans fats. Trans fats reek havoc on the cardiovascular system and promote inflammation in the body generally. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate them completely (unless you NEVER eat out at a restaurant or super market ever again) but we need try to limit them, be scrupulous in reading labels and make from scratch as much as we can. Finding new ways to avoid them in our daily routine is a WIN.  Of course that means avoiding ALL fried foods. But they also appear in so-called health foods a well (wraps, cereals, muesli, crackers, biscuits, “milks”ect…) and shouldn’t be underestimated in their impact on our health. The two most commonly used oils are:

  • “Vegetable oil”  This is almost ALWAYS SOY oil, and if there is one thing you can take the bank, it’s that if it’s SOY and it’s NOT organic, it’s genetically modified. So aside from the highly processed, bad-for-you, rancid nature of the fat- it’s a plant that was never found in nature- AVOID IT LIKE THE PLAGUE. I have also heard a theory that because there is so much vegetable oil in SO many foods, people are actually getting quite a high dose of soy. Soy suppresses thyroid function (among other things), and so it may be contributing to chronic low grade hypothyroidism associated with obesity (rampant in the west). Interesting theory.
  • “Canola oil” Sadly, like soy above, it’s one of the major genetically modified crops of the world. If it’s not organic, just assume it’s a franken-food.

As you can see, LOTS of reasons to avoid the oils in processed/manufactured foods.

In my quest to find the perfect, quick, easy, bread-like food for lunch, I tried many things. Some were a great success, but they perhaps took too much time to make, and were messy- like making your own lavash bread. Lavash breads are great, and are used in a different way to this dosa/crepe like bread. I still make them, for particular meals, when I have a plan of action and the time, but on a regular daily basis, I found the work and mess involved not sustainable.

This recipe is great, because you make up the mixture, keep the “batter” in the fridge, and make it up as needed. It takes very little time and there is no rolling out of dough or splashing of flour all over the counter. It’s fermented (I will be singing the virtues of fermented foods in other posts) , and can be made without flour or gluten. It’s also sprouted- a TRUE WHOLE FOODSo let’s get to it!

Raw buckwheat, mung beans and quinoa ready for the soak.

Like all of my recipes, I’ll give you a basic start up example, and then some suggestions on how you may adjust them and make them your own. The list below is my every day basic recipe that I use and love.

Ingredients

1/2 cup raw buckwheat kernels

1/2 cup dry mung beans

1/3 cup quinoa or other grain like seed (amaranth is most common, but there are also some mixes of “aztec” grains you can get that contain a few varieties)

Optional-a fermentation starter (sourdough starter, whey, raw apple cider vinegar, yoghurt ect…)- more on this later…

-So that’s it. You heard me. THAT’S IT! How great is that?! So what’s next:

Preparation

This can take a day or more to prepare, so think ahead. Don’t be daunted by that statement. Once you’ve put in the initial effort- you’ll have the mix for the dosas of a week or more ready to go…

STEP 1- SOAKING- I often soak the seeds (Buckwheat and quinoa are seeds NOT grains. They are also alkalizing-unlike grains, and gluten free!!! WIN!!!) and the mung beans before I go to bed (as you see in the bowl above). Now you can soak them in a bowl, OR a large mason jar. The jar is easier if you want to take the recipe a bit further and sprout the mix in the next step. Cover with a good double the height in water, as they will expand and soak up the water. You may need to add more in the morning if it’s gone dry. In the morning, before I go out, I pour the mix in to a sieve and rinse well, this gets rid of the starchy water the buckwheat makes…it’s quite thick.

STEP 2- SPROUT- So, if you’ve been soaking in a bowl, you’ve rinsed your mix and then you simply put back in the bowl and cover with new fresh water, and go about your day. This mix WILL begin to sprout in the water, though not as much. If you are looking to really increase the vitality and nutrition of the mix, you will have soaked it all in a large mason jar, placed a bit of tulle (I bought some from a craft store and cut it up into squares big enough to cover the mouths of jars) over the top of the jar, and secured around the rim with an elastic band.

So once you’ve rinsed the soaked mix, you put the jar (mouth covered in the tulle) on it’s side in an appropriate sized bowl- and leave it for approx 8 hours. Depending on the temperature, the mix will sprout at different rates. So you see, if you’ve soaked over night, rinsed in the morning and put in the bowl, you can go to work or get on with the day, and leave it to do it’s thing. Works well with the rhythm of the average day.

After rinsing the soaked mix, the jar is placed on it’s side in an appropriate sized bowl. This allows excess water to drain out of the jar and provides the ideal environment for the seeds to begin to sprout. 

STEP 3- BLENDING- So, after approximately 8 hours, you are ready to blend your mix. If you’ve just left it soaking in the water, it will have begun to sprout slightly and you may notice some small points or bumps coming out of the mung beans/buckwheat. If you’ve done the sprout method, you will know you are ready to blend when the mung beans and buckwheat kernels and the rest have those little “tails” growing out of them. I like to give them another good rinse, before pouring the mix in to the blender jug. Now again in this situation, it’s my experience that you need an actual blender for the best outcome. A bar mix and most food processors won’t get the mix smooth enough. The next part is a bit tricky. You basically want ONLY enough water to blend the mix to a smooth, pancake batter type consistency. Thick, but still liquid. So when adding water to the blender jug, start off with a small amount. See how easily it blends. You may find you need to add a bit water until the mix is blended and seems to move smoothly around in the jug. If you’ve added too much water it’s not the end of the world. You can always add flour to the mixture to thicken it at the end, however, it’s not ideal.

The consistency of the blended mix should be similar to pancake batter- smooth, and liquid but thick. Add flour (gluten free or spelt) if you’ve accidentally made your mix too thin. 

STEP 4- FERMENTATION- Now, there are few things we can do at this stage. If you are hungry and want to eat your flat breads NOW or, if you don’t wish to ferment the mix, you can call it a day. You can pour the mix in to a jar and store it in the fridge for use at this point. However, if you’d like to increase the digestibility/available nutrition of the batter, make it “probiotic” (containing beneficial bacteria which help with digestion and immunity) or you enjoy the wonderful sour-ish taste, there is one more step to go. I use a sourdough starter which I was given by a friend. My sourdough starter is fed with spelt flour, so it’s technically NOT gluten free (even though it’s just a small percentage of the overall mix). If you are gluten free, your starter has to be fed on gluten free flour, or use one of the options below. It is possible to make your own starter from scratch or buy it on-line, but that’s again, probably another post all together. If you don’t have your sourdough starter yet, you can also use:

1 tablespoon plain active yoghurt/kefir OR

1 tablespoon whey (the thin liquid from the top of yoghurt) OR

1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar (will often say “contains mother” or something similar to let you know it is still “alive”) OR 

1 tablespoon sourdough starter 

Stir it into your batter, and cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place, for about 8-12 hours. If you’ve been working with the rhythm I suggested, it usually means just leaving it again over night. At the end of that 8-12 hours, you can simply pour in to a jar and place in the fridge to be stored until used. I find the blended batter, which has been fermented, lasts just over a week in the fridge. I’ve actually never had a batch go off, I always finish it first.

*** NOTE: Some people encourage natural fermentation by leaving the mix out, covered- but WITHOUT adding a starter. This can work. However, it sometimes results in a mix that just goes off. I tend to avoid that method, because I like using some kind of starter to inoculate my batter with(a specific good bacteria), but I do have friends who enjoy success (most of the time) fermenting without a starter.

Blended and fermented mix is ready to be stored in the fridge. Lasts approximately 1 week. 

STEP 5- COOKING- The reason I don’t make up a whole batch of breads at one go and keep them, say, in a bag the way you would get them if you bought them, is that these tend to dry out quite quickly. They really are best made to order. They don’t take much time  to prepare at all luckily, so that’s not been an issue. In fact, I often get the dosa on cooking whilst I’m chopping up salad or veggies for steaming, and then use the hot pan I’ve cooked the dosa in to either saute some mushrooms, cook eggs or organic chicken ect… to put on my flat bread. The other thing to point out, is that these flat breads are more like a crepe or pancake. They are quite soft and while you can roll things up in them, I do prefer to eat them with a knife and fork. But who am I to stop you gettin’ right in there and living large? Get messy and go crazy!!

I heat the pan, and add about a teaspoon of oil- usually coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, however ghee is also great to work with. I use a non stick pan that is supposed to be free of the normal chemicals that teflon ect… contains. Cast iron works too, but imagine what pan you’d like to cook pancakes on… they do have a tendency to stick- at least the first one does. Also, the batter contains NO gluten, so it won’t stick together in the same way pancake batter made from wheat will. It is necessary to give it a bit of a hand making the classic round shape.

 I use a spoon to help spread the mix in the hot pan- as it cooks you can spread the mix out further and further until you have the shape you are after- a circle with no holes in it. 

Once the dosa appears to have cooked around the edges, and a few bubbles have begun to appear,  you can try to flip it. If the edges aren’t quite solid enough yet, give it another minute and then turn it over to cook the other side.

Once it’s golden brown on both sides, you have yourself

one off-the-hook, fermented, sprouted, gluten free,  flat bread!

HIGH FIVE!!! 

SERVING SUGGESTIONS- 

-So with this lovely base, I may lay down a layer of: avocado, hummus, chutney/pickle etc…

-I then may put on that, a couple of eggs (however you like em’), some organic chicken or mushrooms sauteed in the hot pan I just used for the dosa

-I usually will have been steaming some vegetables at the same time. Broccoli, beans, snow peas, kale, cauliflower, pumpkin are favourites. On a day when I have more time, I may have roasted some root vegetables, beets, sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip etc.

-Next I will add some fresh raw vegetables, salad greens- sprouts, grated beets/carrots, or maybe some fermented vegetables- sauerkraut ect…

-I may even just have leftovers from the previous nights dinner and simply eat it as an accompaniment, the way you would bread or crackers.

Basically ANYTHING GOES! Put peanut butter and honey on that sucker and roll it up for a quick snack- whatever works for you, use you imagination.

This is a quick lunch I made my 4 year old daughter- scrambled eggs with kale and goats feta, avocado and snow peas- dosa on the side. 

I’ve experimented using lentils instead of mung beans. I’ve added soaked seeds like sunflower and pepita and added them to the mix. I’ve blended in fresh herbs from the garden, like basil or dill or thyme. I’ve grated carrot in to the batter before cooking. Really, there is no end to the variations… Once you’ve tried it and seen HOW quick and easy this flat bread is, there’s no turning back. You can scratch one more lifeless, nutritionally void, dubious contents, processed carb off your list of daily foods… AMAZING.