x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A hobby gardener in Fujairah runs Little Leaves, a shop that sells micro greens: colourful and culinary cresses that add a welcome zing to most dishes.

Garlic chives. Courtesy Carol Hyland
Garlic chives. Courtesy Carol Hyland

They’re small, packed with flavour and can add a welcome zing to your sandwich or a touch of gourmet pizzazz to your dishes. Say hello to micro greens: the curly, colourful and culinary miniature greens, more commonly known as cress.

From her home in Fujairah, Carol Hyland, a graphic designer by profession and self-proclaimed hobby gardener, runs Little Leaves. It’s a small, home-run business that aims to “adorn posh nosh that chefs cook”, as Hyland puts it.

Her passion for gardening came from her grandmother. “I can still remember the smell of her greenhouse with the jewel-like tomatoes inside,” she said. Her adventure with cress started when she moved to Fujairah a year ago and discovered that the soil of her garden was salty and practically unworkable.

With a multitude of seed packets that she couldn’t use and an insatiable need to garden, Hyland started to plant salad vegetables in-pot. As the seedlings began to grow, she had an epiphany. “Much of my freelance graphic design career had been spent working for hotels and designing food-related brochures, flyers and newsletters. All the little twiddly bits on top of beautiful fine- dining pictures looked like what I was growing.”

So she went on the hunt, scouring supermarket shelves for grains and seeds that might grow – and soon ended up with a surplus that she took to a weekend vegetable market. While the general public was not too enthused with her cress, the cooks and chefs visiting the market expressed a keen interest.

“I realised that my market might lie more in their business than in the general public’s salad bowl, so I started specialising,” she said. A few months later, Little Leaves was born and, with it, started Hyland’s compulsive experimental adventure. Today her ever-growing portfolio of little leaves include: coriander (which she found initially stubborn), radish, peppery rocket and garlic chives that have a surprisingly intense flavour. “I love watching people tasting my garlic chives for the first time. Such a tiny sliver of green … Nothing … nothing … Then their eyebrows shoot up in surprise. The finish is a really intense garlic-onion taste,” says Hyland.

While not attempting to compete with mass producers of cress, Hyland offers her clients a personalised service, instead – after discussing the recipes with respective chefs, Hyland grows the ideal cress that would best complement a particular favourite dish.