The wind howled. Frost hardened on my windows, blotting out what little light radiated from a dull and distant sun.
No matter. Fresh and bright in their makeshift plastic tray, my tiny green broccoli seedlings grew and thrived.
Given little more than a few square inches of potting soil, a scrap of unbleached paper towel and a few spritzes with a cheap supermarket misting bottle, the seeds sprouted within 48 hours, throwing down roots and sending up tiny ivory leaves. The next day, the leaves were lime-green, and a week after that they were dark, lush and ready for harvesting.
Following the instructions in Microgreens: A Guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens by Eric Franks and Jasmine Richardson (Gibbs Smith, $19.99), I clipped a 1½ -inch plant above the soil and popped the whole thing, stem and all, into my mouth.
The flavor, subtle but distinctive, took me by surprise: broccoli distilled to its tender green essence.
Microgreens offer an ideal antidote for those without yards, patios — or even, for that matter, green thumbs.
Bigger than sprouts and smaller than mature plants, microgreens can be grown from herbs and vegetables: basil, beets and broccoli, for example. They're best known as a prized ingredient of produce-savvy chefs, but recent books offer instructions for beginners who want to go "micro" in the comfort of their own homes.
The books include Franks and Richardson's, and Fionna Hill's Microgreens: How to Grow Nature's Own Superfood (Firefly, $17.95).
Throw in some do-it- yourself tips from the Internet — among them making your own trays from old plastic lids — and you're off to a good start.
"Microgreens are easy and they're quick, and you can grow them year-round in your house," Richardson says. "It's a way that the everyday person can produce their own food."
Microgreens also boast an impressive nutritional profile. Three-day-old broccoli plants are a great source of sulforaphane, a powerful cancer-fighting compound, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. In 1997, the researchers reported that 3-day-old broccoli and cauliflower have 10 to 100 times as much glucoraphanin (a precursor of sulforaphane) as the mature plants.
You don't need to buy seed packets specifically labeled microgreens, but you do need to know that some herbs and veggies work better than others.
Richardson and Franks offer information on more than a dozen options, including amaranth, purple cabbage, celery and bok choy.
Some microgreens are harder to grow than others — arugula, for example, can be a trifle fussy about soil pH — so anxious first-timers might want to stick with broccoli, Richardson's top choice for ease and reliability.