Eat Your Shoots?

Eat Your… Shoots?

Enjoy the flavors of scrumptious summer vegetables before they ripen by nibbling vegetable shoots.

Rogue Valley chefs, supplied by local growers from Blue Fox Farm, Whistling Duck, and Fry Family Farms, create dishes offering the delicate qualities of veggie shoots. Look for them at local growers' markets and the Ashland Food Co-op for the next few weeks. Or, better yet, sow your own easy-to-grow wee greens and add a rainbow of unique flavors, colors and textures to your springtime repast.

Although pea shoots are credited with bringing macro-tasting micro-greens to the culinary forefront, Helena Darling, owner of Ashland's Helena Darling Catering, says that the most common shoots are micro-green salad mixes. "If you like to be creative in the kitchen, vegetable shoots are tremendously fun to work with," she says, "One of the great things about them is that their flavor is so pure and has such a different character than the full-grown vegetable." Darling likes to use shoots "as a raw exclamation point when paired with the same vegetable cooked. Top a nice pea purée with fresh pea sprouts, or pair fresh corn shoots with the 'grown-up' veggie," she says.

However, the delicious, fragile shoots are expensive and difficult to locate commercially. With a little time, a little space and a handful of organic seeds, treat yourself and your family to exceptional tastes of: leafy greens, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, cilantro, corn, garlic, jalapeño, lentil, onion, pea, radish, soybean, sunflower, or wheat shoots. Plant the seeds according to guidelines, and when the shoots are about three days old and topped with a pair of leaves, they're ready to eat. They'll last for about a week in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp towel in a plastic bag.

When shoots are available, Kate Cyr, sous chef at Lark's Restaurant in Ashland says her kitchen buys bushels of them. "When they're in season, we serve them in salads with other fresh produce. But, mostly we serve them sautéed, with different herbs and spices, as a veggie side," she says, "They're also great with a warm vinaigrette." The graceful stems and leaves from yellows — pop corn, golden chard and peas; reds — beets, mustard, and radish and kohlrabi; and pale to bright greens, make shoots a beautiful springtime indulgence.

Bite for bite, fresh or lightly cooked, shoots have more vitamins, minerals, and food energy, than the mature vegetables. Broccoli sprouts are packed with a powerful cancer fighter, sulforaphane, without the sharp flavor. For a spicy tang, choose beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, cilantro, garlic leafy green or radish shoots. And corn, sunflower and wheat shoots add a hint of sweetness.

Some shoots, like asparagus, chives and bamboo shoots are a kitchen staple. Around the world, chefs are on the lookout for new and exotic shoots to offer diners. This season, aim low"¦ inches above the ground.

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