Thinnings: 3 ways to Enjoy the Amuse-Bouche of the Spring Garden

by Doug Muller

In the popular imagination, winter is the lean season, the time when cold and snow have buried any produce that might be available and the frozen ground and frost makes fresh food just a distant memory. But we gardeners know that winter can actually be bountiful: roots, ferments, pickles, and canned, dried, and frozen foods from the summer bounty make for a robust veggie repertoire.

No: it is not winter when the stomach and the palate cry in want. It is now.

In early April in the northern United States, the typical garden offers little for fresh eating besides maybe some asparagus and some perennial herbs. And, by now, the roots have wilted, the freezer is empty, and the ferments have become inedible. But if you look closely at your cold-hardy sowings, you will find a hidden bounty, a delightful two-for: thinnings!

Many plants, such as lettuce, radishes, arugula, spinach, and brassicas of all sorts, are often sown more thickly than their final spacing ought to be. In order to get healthy radishes, for instance, you must pluck out enough seedlings that the remaining seedlings are spaced at least 1-2" apart. The result is a tiny pile of brilliant green fresh sprouts, more flavorful than those bought at the store--and more satisfying, for these spoils were the result of work you had to do anyway.

Some people foolishly discard these thinnings into the compost pile, thinking they're so few as to be not worth eating. Others hesitate to pluck the young sprouts for fear it's a waste of life. Don't succumb to this thinking! Here are three terrific ways to amuse your mouth with these tiny capsules of verdant lifeforce:

  1. Dip 'em! Make a little bit of dressing and enjoy eating them--one at a time!--by dipping each sprout into dressing and then popping them fresh into your mouth. Make it into a spiritual practice: eat them slowly and allow your body to remember the vitality of fresh-from-the-garden greens
  2. Grind 'em! Slice them finely or--if you have enough--put them in a food processor with a little lemon juice and olive oil and salt. Spread on top of bread or an entree as a fresh, bright topping.
  3. Pile 'em! Thinnings are made for sandwiches. Pile them on top of a sandwich filling and watch your sandwich instantly get much more interesting.

This is a photo of Doug pinching the roots off of Baby Bok Choi thinnings. Any particularly favorite thinnings? Say so in the comments below!