Jeff and Vineta Cook, owners of Beluga Gardens Microgreens, weren’t always healthy eaters. Before they had kids they ate whatever they wanted. However, when their second son suffered a traumatic brain injury after birth, they knew it was time to make some changes. The couple turned to microgreens as the solution to get more nutrients into theirs and their three children’s diets. “Our whole family eats them,” said Jeff Cook.
Cook calls microgreens the caviar of the vegetable world, which is how he came up with the name for his company. Microgreens are young vegetables that are in the development stage between sprouts and baby greens. Highly concentrated with flavor, they take on the flavor of their adult versions. For example, “Broccoli microgreens taste like broccoli and pea shoots taste like peas,” said Cook. He offers this explanation of microgreens on his website belugagardens.com:
no root + no leaves = seed
root + no leaves = sprout
root + 2 leaves (true leaves) = microgreen
root + 3rd and 4th leaves = baby greens
“The nutrients in microgreens can be up to 40 times more than their adult plants. You get the benefit of increased nutrients, but you don’t get the calories in the microgreens that you would get in the full-size vegetables,” said Cook.
Citing a study done by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2017, Medical News Today shared that microgreens have high levels of phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Because of the high levels of antioxidants, microgreens are “considered a functional food, a food that promotes health or prevents disease.”
Cook explained that the trend of incorporating microgreens into dishes originated with chefs at high-end restaurants in San Francisco back in the 1990s. “They started plopping these little plants on their dishes as garnishes. Since then it took off quickly, and now microgreens are used in fine dining restaurants all over the country,” he said.
Although microgreens are growing in popularity, Cook said people are still treating them as a garnish and not typically using them for nutrition. “Microgreens do offer a pop of color to food; however, they are not just a garnish,” he said. There are many ways to use microgreens. They can be blended in smoothies, tossed into salads, used in sandwiches and wraps, or as toppings for pizza, soups, eggs and other dishes. Some of the ways Cook and his family use microgreens are as a salad drizzled with ranch dressing and as the base layer for hot chicken dishes or stir fry. He mentioned using leeks in mashed potatoes, eggs and cottage cheese. “Make them one of your vegetable sides,” he suggested. “The best way to use them is to cut them and eat them on the spot.”
The Cooks started growing their own microgreens because it was more economical than buying them. “It’s less expensive to grow them yourself because you need to plant hundreds of seeds in a small area,” explained Cook. In February of this year, the Cooks decided to turn their healthy activity into a business. “We rent office space off Conant Street where we grow our microgreens under LED lights,” Cook explained. Microgreens can be grown outside, in greenhouses and on windowsills; however, Cook prefers to grow them indoors where he can control the temperature as well as grow them year-round. “It’s hard to grow microgreens outside because they are very vulnerable to animals eating them.”
Cook grows several varieties of microgreens at a time including sunflowers, parsley, leeks and pea shoots. For those who want to learn more and sample some of Beluga Gardens Microgreens, Cook is a regular vendor at the downtown Sylvania Farmers Market on Tuesdays. Weekly subscriptions for microgreens can also be ordered through the company’s website for pickup or delivery. Below are two of Cook’s favorite recipes for using his microgreens. Thanks for the inspiration, Jeff.
Healthy Start Breakfast Salad
“Not enough people eat, nor know how to eat, a truly healthy breakfast full of greens and healthy oils,” said Cook. “Breakfast is the meal that provides most of the day’s energy and anti-inflammatories. This recipe is a great start to accompany any breakfast,” he added. The recipe makes three small side dish servings.
1 small container Beluga Gardens Sampler, which contains pea shoots, sunflowers and 1 delicate microgreen (broccoli, parsley or mixed microgreens)
3-5 tablespoons flaxseed oil (rich in omega 3s)
3-5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Dice greens and combine with oil, vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
(Recipe by Jeff Cook)
Chicken Dinner Salad
“The warm chicken over cold microgreens is amazing,” said Cook. “This meal should be in all fine dining restaurants for more than $35 per plate, and it could be in your home tonight.”
2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
one large container of Beluga Gardens Leek Microgreens
1 bunch of scallions or chives
1 bunch of your favorite lettuce or leafy green
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons sour cream
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
3-5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt without fillers
Pepper to taste
In a large pot, place chicken thighs, add water and turn the heat to high.
While waiting for the pot to boil, cut all greens into one- to two-inch lengths and place in a large bowl.
Mix in olive oil and apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, cover and place in the refrigerator.
Add remainder of sea salt to the large pot to make a brine. As soon as the chicken brine is boiling, turn heat to very low (almost off) and cover for 45-60 minutes.
After stewing in the brine for about an hour, drain chicken brine completely, leaving chicken thighs, which probably now weigh about one pound in total.
Add unsalted butter and sour cream to the pot (no heat) to melt.
Cut chicken into one- to two-inch pieces and return to pot with the butter and sour cream, add more salt and pepper to taste if needed. Mix well.
Serve chilled greens on dinner plates and top with warm chicken.
(Recipe by Jeff Cook)