Dealer's Choice

Keep Your Tweezers to Yourself, Chef

By VICE Staff

From left to right, bronze fennel, mugwort, red malabar, ice plant, salad burnet, and emerald ice lettuce. Microgreens provided by Ian Rothman.

Welcome back to Dealer's Choice, where food expert Ian Purkayastha clues us in on what top chefs across America are serving on freshly ironed white linen tablecloths at upscale restaurants. Ian's a food dealer to over 300 restaurants nationwide—including a clientele of chefs like Sean Brock and Jean-Georges Vongerichten—and his smooth sales pitch and top-shelf product list has everybody hooked on the goods he’s slinging.

We’ve all been there at least once in our dining lives, if only in our minds. Here's the scenario: you're seated in a fancy enough restaurant. The waiter is walking over to your table with a hot plate of food that you ordered. You’ve anticipated a generous portion of chicken with some sort of bougie looking sauce with some foreign name that’s intended to impress your dining companion(s). 

But what happens next should be condemned: what feels like ten minutes have passed, and the waiter is still hovering behind you in the midst of a loquacious speech about the cornucopia of freshly plucked microgreens that the chef thoughtfully placed there ontop of your iPod nanno sized portion of chicken. Your waiter mentions that these microgreens were cautiously put there with a pair of tweezers. Does the chef have OCD? 

Finally, thank Hova. The waiter has left your table. Your expensive plate of food is now cold because of their incorrigible sales pitch. 

WTF.

Microgreens get a bad rap. They are the tiny forms of edible greens, herbs, vegetables, and other plants that are under 14 days old. Yes, they are considered garnishes, but high-quality edible flair that are often on a Liberace level of decoration compared to a dull sprig of cheap parsley. They're the typical culprits for the long waiter rants at your table. More often than not, microgreens (such as sorrel) taste like almost nothing, providing as much personality to a dish as a silent mute with a staring problem standing in a dark corner at some party. But for some microgreens, flavor outweighs their sheer attractiveness. Rumor has it that they pack in more nutrients than their adult counter parts.

I’ve cut out the BS and hand picked the only microgreens I find worthy of your edible time. These six varieties, found below, are the ironclad examples that supersede the rest in this category. 

Bronze Fennel

With an appearance like a kinky bullwhip or a fluffy duster in the back room of some S&M parlor, bronze fennel is an herb that has a licorice-y, anise flavored sweetness. 

Mugwort 


This tastes identical to marshmallows, minus the warm childhood nostalgia. Mugwort is a freaky, mystical green that goes pretty far back within human history. In medieval times, people were very superstitious, and rightfully so. It was a time when neighbors were eaten by wild animals, killed off from illnesses, or murdered in heated jousts in the midst of warfare. The belief that mugwort could protect wandering souls from fatigue, sunstroke, beasts, and evil spirits was considered a legit staple for survival. Supposedly, St. John (the dude that allegedly baptized the baby Jesus) wore a girdle of mugwort when he was out in the wilderness. Honestly, I can’t really blame him when I think about all of the crazy stuff that could be lurking out there with no medical kit in sight. 

Red Malabar


This is the Hulk Hogan of spinach varietals (in resilience) because it can grow in very hot climates. It’s incredibly hearty, and has a citrusy pepper finish in taste.

Ice plant 


Also known as “ficoïde glaciale,” ice plant is native to South Africa, the Basque region of Spain, and France. It’s an edible succulent that's crispy in texture, with a citrusy finish. It will make you wonder if you’re tripping on acid or going straight mental, because it looks like it’s frozen and studded with ice crystals. Keep staring. It’s not actually frozen. 

Salad Burnet


Even though this looks like some sort of invasive weed that might grow between the crevices of some blown own crack house, salad burnet actually tastes like a freshly chopped cucumber, minus the aroma. Back in medieval times—when health codes were completely absent, deodorant didn’t exist, and soap was an exotic object—this plant was used to heal wounds and protect people against the bubonic plague. Not sure how that second part worked out, but once the Elizabethan age came around, people began to throw it into their wine glasses as some sort of garnish. Total weirdos.

Emerald Ice Lettuce


This tastes a lot like ice plant, but it’s got a crisp, citrusy finish mixed with an earthy, mushroom tang. 

Look, I get it. After sifting through this list of tiny herbs, you’re probably hungry, starving, and don’t have time for bullshit. Just order a crave case from White Castle and bless the stars when you exultantly open the box, for tweezers haven’t touched this food.  

Previously: High on Hot Chlorophyll

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