Behind the Scenes: Microgreens

Last week I caught up with Tenita Solanto, Navy veteran, farmer, and all around badass. She owns Green Panda Farms in Siler City, where she and her wife live, and is a fount of knowledge on a gigantic subject: microgreens.

According to the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information, “As the World’s population grows at an unprecedented rate, food systems must be revised to provide adequate nutrition while minimizing environmental impacts.” It goes on to state that “in the US, food production utilizes 50% of land and is responsible for 80% of total freshwater consumption.” Smart farming is the way to go, and microgreens are a smart solution.

You can read about Tenita’s journey from technology and electronics to farming in this week’s Chatham News & Record. She’s been and done a lot of things on her life’s journey, but she says with great humor, “I consider where I am now a success. Maybe not a financial success, but me as a person and how much more growth and development I’ve had, and my connection with the community.”

But I wanted to give a little more background on microgreens here.

Runner’s World has this easy explanation: microgreens are vegetables and herbs that haven’t yet matured—the middle ground between sprouts and baby greens. “Tiny as they are, these young plants deliver intense flavors, vibrant colors, and unique textures.”

If you’re going to try and grow your own microgreens, consider this list from Healthline, listing the most popular varieties of microgreens are produced using seeds from the following plant families:

  • Brassicaceae family: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, radish and arugula
  • Asteraceae family: Lettuce, endive, chicory and radicchio
  • Apiaceae family: Dill, carrot, fennel and celery
  • Amaryllidaceae family: Garlic, onion, leek
  • Amaranthaceae family: Amaranth, quinoa swiss chard, beet and spinach
  • Cucurbitaceae family: Melon, cucumber and squash

Tenita told me that if I wanted to grow them at home, I just needed good soil, with densely sprinkled seeds on top (in a single layer), and a little water. I planted a patch of arugula yesterday, so I’ll let you know how it goes. If you like more formal instructions, check out:

If you’re a fan of cilantro, try Tenita’s recipe for Butternut Squash Soup:

Microgreens from Green Panda Farms are available directly through Green Panda Farms, at the Durham Co-Op Market, and Chatham Food Hub.

NOTE: All photos in this post, along with the recipe (and pretty recipe card) are copyrighted by Tenita Solanto and used with permission (even though the newspaper copy didn’t attribute it correctly).

Veggie Profile: Shishito Peppers

Do you shishito? We do.

I’ve been a fan of shishito peppers for years, having tried them the first time about four years ago in Manhattan. I was hooked immediately. We have them pretty regularly during the summertime, as both appetizers with a fresh, cold beer, or as a side dish for dinner. Today, I blistered them and served them alongside huevos rancheros for lunch. We nearly fought over them. They were that good.

New to shishitos? They’re mild peppers (Capsicum annuum) that you can eat whole, seeds and all. I’d say 19 out of 20 are mild, but there always one every now and then that slaps back. That makes it exciting! To blister them: heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high to high heat (you don’t want your pan to smoke). Add the peppers, whole (no stems), and turn them occasionally over a five minute period. They’ll visibly blister on the sides. Remove from heat and toss with a good pinch of sea salt. Serve hot. They’re a great addition or substitution for edamame.

Lavender syrup

Lavender is one of my favorite plants … it’s an herb, it’s a flower, it’s a perennial, it’s a mosquito-repellent. It’s Mediterranean, and makes me think of our trips to Rome, Spain and France. If I close my eyes and walk through the lavender in our gardens, it transports me back to some of my very favorite memories with my very favorite people. Growing and caring for lavender is very easy, and best of all, now is the time to plant it! I discovered through trial and error (which I probably could’ve asked about) that it’s best to leave the lavender as it is in the fall, rather than trimming it back for the winter. If you trim it back, it’s done. Kaput. But if you let the branches and leaves get dried and dead looking, surprisingly, they green-up in the spring. Lavender is great for clipping and bringing inside, and either enjoying in a vase with water or letting it dry. Once dry you can sew it into eye masks or add it to potpourri (that’s old school). Or, if you’re like my son, make lavender syrup for coffee and to drizzle over vanilla ice cream. I also like a dash of it in a glass of Prosecco. 🙂

Lavender syrup:

Clip a handful of lavender leaves and flowers (equal parts of both). In a saucepan, add 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the lavender, and bring to a boil. Stir it regularly until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes), then turn it off and let it steep for half an hour. Pour into Ball jars or pretty glass containers through a strainer, and let cool completely. It’ll last for about a month in the fridge, so I find it’s better to make it in small batches so it doesn’t mold before I can use it all.

Fig Jam

As it turns out, we don’t have to plant any fig trees because two sets of great friends within a mile have them, and both are willing to share. Winning!

Earlier this month, R&D gave us a 2 lb baggie of frozen figs they picked in fall 2019. I brought them home, thawed them in the fridge overnight, and made jam the next day. If you were here with us, I would fight you for it. It’s that good. Our son likes it with a pat of salted butter on homemade bread; my husband likes it spread liberally on a ham biscuit. Me? I could just eat it by the spoonful.

  • 2 pounds figs – washed, stemmed and cut in half (it’s about 4 cups)
  •  1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  •  1/4 cup water
  •  1/4 cup lemon juice
  •  Pinch of salt

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then reduce heat and let simmer about half an hour. Stir regularly, and you’ll know it’s done when the liquid is thick and sticks to the spoon. You can leave the figs in big half-size chunks, or put it in a blender/cuisinart and buzz it until it’s smoother. It’ll last for up to two months in the fridge.