I love microgreens, the tender, sweet sprigs often found as garnish on restaurant dishes. I’ve been buying them from Oxnard’s Scarborough Farms at the Saturday Irvine Farmers Market and find lots of applications, like strewing them over one of our thin-crust pizzas when it emerges from the oven. One of my favorite ways to eat them is piled on a cream-cheese smeared seeded bagel, which really takes advantage of the greens’ vegetal sweetness and delicate crunch.
Now, Orange County has a microgreen grower of its own. I tagged along with some local chefs on a recent tour of Urban Produce in Irvine, a certified organic hydroponic grower owned by Laguna Niguel resident Ed Horton. At Urban Produce, the future is definitely now. Behind clear plastic panels keeping humidity from filling the entire warehouse space, thousands of trays of sprouted seeds bask under grow lights on ladder-like racks circulating on a giant ceiling track that resembles the biggest dry-cleaning carousel ever. The rotating trays make scheduled stops at a water delivery spigot to get a measured dose, which is entirely used by the plants—there’s no runoff or water waste. The microgreens are sold live, still rooted in their coconut-fiber growing medium.
The chefs, including Brent Omeste of Cucina Enoteca in Newport Beach, Lindsay Smith-Rosales of Nirvana Grille in Laguna Beach, and Frank DeLoach, formerly of both Playground and Early Bird, now executive chef at Long Beach’s Tavern on 2, seemed intrigued by the idea of a local source for organic microgreens. We tasted a few, including a microbroccoli and the company’s “Asian zest” blend, which had an upper-palate-tickling wasabi component. The company also grows wheatgrass, the juice bar essential, and plans additional vegetable products as well as strawberries.
You can find Urban Produce microgreens at Fresh & Easy, Mother’s, Ralphs, Sprouts, Vons, and Whole Foods. Newcomer Haggen will have them, too, as it completes its takeover of some O.C. Albertsons, Pavilions, and Vons stores. (More on Haggen later.)