Nkululeko Mlotshwa shares his tips (and recipes) on using microgreens in your next recipe

Born and raised in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, Nkululeko Mlotshwa recognised his passion for food while employed as a general worker in the hospitality industry. That was in 2011. Fast forward seven years, and today Nkululeko is living out his dream studying at the Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine, thanks to a Woolworths TASTE Eat Out Bursary.

“Every day is a new day of learning,” says Mlotshwa. “Who, a few years back, would have thought I would be studying French terminology and cake icing – as well as everything else that will put me on the right road to become a chef of distinction?”

Part of his innovation includes experimenting with microgreens as a key ingredient in recipe development. These flavourful superfoods offer 40% more nutritional value than their older plant versions. In fact, in 2014 researchers at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service, including national programme leader Gene Lester, discovered nearly all of the 25 varieties of microgreens tested had four to six times more vitamins and phytochemicals than mature leaves from the same plant.


What exactly are microgreens?

Shaun Miller, from Urban Micro Greens – a Johannesburg based business that produces the product locally explains – “All the nutrients the plant requires to produce a lifetime of fruit and vegetable is contained in the first shoot.”

Microgreens should not be confused with sprouts that are the shoots of legumes, beans, chickpeas and lentils, Miller points out. He also cautions shoppers to differentiate between products masquerading as microgreens “As soon a shoot starts growing the leaves for that particular plant, it starts to deplete it of nutrients.” This kind of product is called a baby leaf, and while it is also considered nutritious, it’s not as highly concentrated as a microgreen” he points out.   “The leaves you see on microgreens will always be two leaves opposite each other  – these are the cotyledons, they are an embryonic leaf in seed-bearing plants, one or more of which are the first leaves to appear from a germinating seed. The first actual leaves of the plant will look nothing like the cotyledons you see on true microgreens.”


Micro innovator with macro flare

“Sometimes we give up on a tasty dish because of its perceived lack of nutrition” comments Mlotshwa. “I’m using these microgreens in such a way that you can enjoy that chip dip or that ice cream, and know you’re getting a vitamin boost too.”

Among the vitamins and minerals found in high concentration levels in microgreens are Vitamins C, K and E, lutein, beta-carotene, phenols and polyphenols, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and folic acid.

“My microgreen herb pesto uses coriander, mustard, beetroot and rocket as the greens in place of a mature green plant like basil. This takes the humble pesto to a nutrient-rich place, one that’s delicious and good for you!” comments Mlotshwa.

Miller points out the other varieties of microgreens available on the market, “Depending on the season, you can get anywhere between 12 to 20 varieties – including sunflower, black mustard, red radish, coriander, beetroot, tatsoi (an Asian green) and broccoli.”  The Johannesburg-based company produces microgreens predominantly for export but recently started selling their grade one nutrient-rich products into the South African market.

One of Mlotshwa’s favourite recipes is his microgreen herb pesto. “It is quick and easy to make and versatile too. I’ve included ideas on the ways you can apply this pesto to an array of different dishes and applications” he comments.  “The main thing to keep in mind when you apply this pesto to your dish is that you must not cook it further. When microgreens are cooked they are depleted of their nutrients.”

Nkululeko’s Microgreen Herb Pesto

Makes about 2 cups


70g selection of fresh microgreen herbs; a good mix would be coriander, mustard, beetroot and rocket.

60g butter

1 cup olive oil

5 large cloves garlic

100g finely grated Parmesan or pecorino

100g pine nuts or pine kernels (flaked almonds can be substituted as a cheaper and delicious alternative)

Salt and pepper


Place the microgreens, butter, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan into a blender.

Roast the pine nuts for a few minutes until a light golden colour, then cool slightly, just before adding to the blended ingredients to ensure a fresh, roasted flavour.

Blend until the correct consistency of a thick spreadable paste is reached.

Store in an airtight, sterilised container in the fridge.

4 Alternative Ways to Use Nkululeko’s Microgreen Herb Pesto


1) Pesto butter

3/4 cup pesto mashed into four tablespoons softened butter.

Delicious on freshly baked ciabatta


2) Tasty up your boiled eggs

Perfect for those on a banting diet. Drizzle over your eggs in the morning for a nutrient boost!


3) Lemon pesto dip

Whisk up 1/2 cup sour cream with 1/4 cup each mayonnaise, Parmesan and pesto, 2 tablespoons capers and 2 teaspoons each lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Perfect for a dinner party welcome snack served with ostrich fillet skewers cooked slowly over the braai.


4) Pesto hummus

Mix 1 cup hummus with 2 tablespoons pesto. Add chopped mint, toasted pine nuts and a dash of paprika to the top.

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