We’ve all seen that frustrating episode of Chopped or Top Chef where the judge will nibble at something that looks like God himself plated it and then wrinkle their nose, unimpressed. “I’m sorry,” Tom Colicchio or Padme will intone. “But the presentation just puts me off. Simply not enough true leaves!”
Many of us are probably thinking something along the lines of “Oh, come on!” in that moment. After all, who needs the art of crystallized flowers or petite greens when your shrimp ceviche is so incredibly off the chain? Well, as it turns out, Americans actually do care quite a bit about the finer things in life, including how their food looks. Children have exacting preferences when it comes to food colors on a plate (six) as well as how many components should make up their macaroni and frank meal or what have you (seven). Adults are a little more measured, preferring only three colors on a plate, but they’re willing to bankroll excursions to high end eateries to get their vegan aolis and herb crystals. Fine dining has gone up 3% in the last year alone as a past time.
So, how do you get in on this food-as-art craze and impress your in-laws or the line cook at your local crab shack? There’s a relatively simple and fashionable answer, and that answer is micro greens.
Micro greens have been en vogue for around 30 years now, and are exactly what they sound like. They’re edible greens that are smaller and more delicate than the things we usually think of as greens, such as spinach and lettuce. They’re also generally stronger and more distinctive in flavor, and are not soon to be forgotten by a consumer. Finally, micro greens are just plain pretty. Whether it’s their dual color, delicate texture, or multi-dimensional leaf, chances are a plated micro green will catch the eyes of the Colicchio’s of the world and give your dish that extra oomf everyone has come to value.
So, what micro greens should you try? As it turns out, we have a few recommendable micro green varieties for beginners:
1. Cilantro (but the baby version)
You know all about big cilantro. Well, mini cilantro is one of the most user-friendly micro green varieties out there. It’s smaller than mature cilantro and is a great safe bet on taco night for that friend with the temperamental pallet who insists big cilantro tastes like soap, since its flavor is more subtle.
2. ‘Cressida” Cress
This is one of our favorite micro green varieties mainly because of its fancy, three-pronged leaf. It’s also a great way to add a kick to any meal, as it brings spicy pepper flavor to any dish it’s added to.
3. ‘Garnet Giant” Mustard
There’s subtle, and then there’s Garnet Giant. This friendly, purple-tinged micro green will add a mild heat to your dish and give it a rustic aesthetic to boot. It kind of reminds us of cabbage. Less gross cabbage.
4. ‘Hong Vit” Radish
If you’re leafing through micro green varieties online (pun intended) and just aren’t finding the colors you were promised, Google no further than Hong Vit radish. This spicy herb boasts long, bright pink stems that will add eye-popping interest to a salad or a main course. And if you want to go the whole hog on color…
5. ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss Chard
No surprises when it comes to taste here (it tastes like chard), however this herb’s stems come in every color in the rainbow. Our personal favorites are gold, pink, and orange, but with these kinds of options, you can mix and match for the seasons!
Instead of dreading your next meal presentation, use micro greens to ensure your meal captures plate attention as well as taste buds attention. Sophisticated plating is the quickest way to go from “kid who’s got potential” to “Okay we should take them seriously as a chef.”