Sunflower Pesto

One of my favorite microgreens is the sunflower. I can’t get enough of the nutty, buttery, slightly piney taste of sunflower microgreens, and they’re a joy to grow. This particular microgreen will happily thrive in natural light, and asks only for a window with medium sun. I grow mine on homemade shelves in a west-facing window. They are a reliable crop year-round, and loaded with nutritional benefits.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with new recipes for my microgreens. In particular, I’ve been looking for ways to feed them to my friends and family who might not be as keen to chow down on plain greens as I am. One of my most successful attempts so far has been this recipe for Sunflower Pesto.

In addition to being my favorite microgreen variety, sunflower is a wonderful native food plant. I love incorporating its many edible parts into my cooking. I also grow plenty of sunflowers outdoors where all creatures great and small can enjoy their blooms. This recipe uses three sunflower products: the greens, the seeds, and the seed oil.

Ingredients

1 box (1/2 pint) Sunflower Microgreens
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or Organic Cold-Pressed Sunflower Oil
1/2 – 1 cup goat cheese crumbles, or a vegan cheese substitute of your choice
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1-3 medium sized garlic cloves, according to your taste preferences
Salt & Pepper To Taste. As a guideline for most palates, try 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper.

Instructions

Add all ingredients to a food processor, and process until nearly smooth. Pause to scrape down the sides of the food processor container if you notice ingredients sticking to the sides near the top.

Serving Suggestions

This pesto is delicious in all the ways I’ve tried it. You can use it in any recipe you currently enjoy that calls for pesto. Here are a few suggestions:
* As a spread for sandwiches
* As a pasta sauce, or combined with a creamy pasta sauce
* Mixed into the dressing for potato salads
* Slathered on roasted corn on the cob
* Tossed with grilled zucchini
* As a dip for your favorite raw veggies.

Notes

Sunflower Oil: If you can’t find cold-pressed organic sunflower oil, then I recommend using extra virgin olive oil instead. The inexpensive sunflower oil commonly sold in grocery stores is heavily processed with chemical solvents, and I don’t personally consider it to be a healthy choice. Of course, feel free to choose the olive oil anyway, for its excellent flavor, health benefits, and higher likelihood of already existing in your pantry.

Cheese Portions: If you are serving this recipe to people who are not eager greens-eaters, then I definitely recommend including the full cup of cheese. If you enjoy fresh green flavors and are looking for a healthier option, then reduce the cheese to 1/2 cup.

Vegan Substitutions: To make this recipe vegan, substitute the vegan cheese of your choice for the goat cheese crumbles. I really enjoy nutritional yeast as an affordable and easy substitute for cheese in pesto recipes. I also love this vegan mozzarella recipe from Avocadoes & Ales. There are numerous store-bought vegan cheese preparations available now, which is a wonderful convenience for those who choose to limit or eliminate dairy in their diet. If you’re going with one of these pre-made options, I suggest choosing one of the soft vegan cheeses rather than shreds or slices.

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Grilled Cheese with Sunflower Microgreens

Shortly after I left the big city, I realized that fresh salad ingredients were a little harder to come by in my new rural home. In the warm months I could rely on my garden, but what about the winter months? Leafy greens are the foundation of my own personal food pyramid, so I was highly motivated to find a solution to this problem. My quest led me to the library, where I found Peter Burke’s book, “Year Round Indoor Salad Gardening”. This is a book about growing microgreens on a window sill all year long. I got right on it and immediately planted all my windows, and I’ve been growing these delicious tiny greens ever since. Although my initial need was for winter greens, I grow these even in the summers because they are so delicious and reliable. The seeds can be purchased in large quantities from Johnny’s or The Sprout House, and they store well in airtight containers in my unheated basement. When the pandemic hit and grocery stores got crazy and my budget approached zero, I stayed home and sprouted my stash. Last year, I built shelving in my windows to increase my growing area to begin selling these delicious tiny harvests at my local farmers market. These greens have brought so much joy to my life. Whether you grow your own or purchase them at the market, this recipe brings a healthy twist to an indulgent childhood favorite recipe: the grilled cheese sandwich.

This recipe may work with other types of microgreens, but sunflower sprouts are my favorite. Unlike some of the more delicate types of microgreens, sunflowers hold up well to a bit of heat. Their succulent texture and nutty green flavor complements the melted cheese in a wonderful way, each encouraging the other to be even more of what we already love about it. And if you enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches often, adding microgreens to something you’re already making is a great way to give your meal a quick and easy nutrient boost.

Ingredients

– 1/2 box sunflower microgreens (about one big handful)
– 2 slices sandwich bread of your choice
– 1.5 slices white cheddar cheese, or enough to cover bread in a single layer
– 1.5 slices colby jack cheese, or enough to cover bread in a single layer
– Mayonnaise

Recipe

Place your pan on the stovetop and preheat it as you normally would for grilled cheese. Preheating is different depending on the type of pan you use. For example, if you have a nonstick pan with Teflon coating, you really shouldn’t preheat it at all. I use a cast iron griddle, which takes preheating very well. I preheat my cast iron griddle on medium heat for a few minutes, until a drop of water sprinkled on the pan sizzles. Cast iron conducts heat very well, so the pan can become hotter than other types of pans on a lower burner setting. If you are using a stainless steel pan, you might want to preheat the pan for a shorter amount of time, but on medium-high heat. You probably already know how to use your own pan.

While the pan is preheating, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on each slice of bread. This mayonnaise layer is going to be the outside of the sandwich. I do this instead of melting a big chunk of butter in the pan. This way you get the good stuff right where you want it. Mayonnaise makes a lovely crispy textured bread when grilled.

Next, gather your sunflower greens and roughly chop them into bite sized pieces.

When the pan is ready, place one slice of bread mayo-side-down onto the skillet. Lay a slice of cheese (or a slice and a half, depending on the size of your bread) on top. Next, lay your microgreens on top of the cheese layer. At this time, your sandwich should look something like this:

a slice of bread topped with a slice of cheese topped with chopped sunflower microgreens sits in a cast iron skillet

Cover the greens with another slice (or slice and a half) of cheese, and then top it all off with the final slice of bread mayo-side-up. Stay and watch as the sandwich cooks. When you start to see the bottom layer of cheese soften, carefully check the underside of the bottom slice of bread. If it looks crispy and golden, then it’s time to flip. Slide a spatula underneath the sandwich, and carefully steady the top side while you flip the sandwich over. Allow the other slice of bread to become crispy and the rest of the cheese to melt.

Slice the completed sandwich into your preferred shape and enjoy with a green salad or a hot cup of tomato soup.

Troubleshooting

When I was first learning to make grilled cheese sandwiches, I had trouble getting it just right. It seemed like the bread would burn before the cheese melted. If this is happening to you, try turning down the heat. For example, if you’re cooking on medium high, try the medium setting. Another thing you can do is to remove the sandwich from the skillet when the bread is done, even if the cheese isn’t melted yet. You can finish melting the cheese in the oven.

Further Reading

For more information about microgreens, check out these other posts:
A Micro-Farm for Microgreens
Two Summer Dips: Recipes Featuring Microgreens!

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Two Summer Dips: Recipes Featuring Microgreens!

After a perfect sunny Saturday at the farmers market, Sunday is a day for cooking up all the veggies we brought home. For me, that means the veggies I brought but didn’t sell. For you, perhaps it means the veggies you purchased. This week I find myself with an abundance of microgreens. Normally I enjoy my microgreens in simple preparations that really let their flavor shine. I sprinkle them on top of scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, sandwiches, and soups. I make salads with them, or add them to big leafy salads combined with other greens. Today, I was in the mood for something a little more celebratory for the family Father’s Day Barbecue. Mediterranean flavors were calling to me, and the basil in my garden needed a little trim. I came up with two variations on a fresh-flavored summer dip featuring pea tendrils and buckwheat microgreens.

Mediterranean Microgreens Bruschetta

This version is heart-healthy, vegan, and completely delicious. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 box buckwheat microgreens (1/2 pint)
1 box pea tendrils (1/2 pint)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves (1 cup, gently packed)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 12oz jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 14.5oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

Add buckwheat microgreens, pea tendrils, and fresh basil leaves to a food processor and pulse a few times to roughly chop and combine. Add artichokes and red peppers to the food processor. Pulse again until ingredients are uniformly chopped and combined.

Add salt, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil to taste if desired. Serve atop toasted baguette slices or on your favorite crackers.

Creamy Microgreens and Artichoke Dip

Creamy Microgreens Dip

This dip is a little more indulgent than the bruschetta, and perfect for a celebration. It feels like a treat, but is secretly packed with nutrients!


Ingredients:
1 box buckwheat microgreens (1/2 pint)
1 box pea tendrils (1/2 pint)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves (1 cup, gently packed)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 12oz jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 14.5oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 package unflavored cream cheese
5oz Parmesan Cheese, grated

Add buckwheat microgreens, pea tendrils, and fresh basil leaves to a food processor and pulse a few times to roughly chop and combine. Add artichokes and red peppers to the food processor. Pulse again until ingredients are uniformly chopped and combined. Add cream cheese and parmesan and pulse just enough to combine the ingredients.

Add salt and black pepper to taste if desired. Serve cold or warm with tortilla chips, or spread on a sandwich with your favorite vegetable fillings.

Further Reading

You may also enjoy some of my other articles about microgreens:
A Micro-Farm for Microgreens
Two Summer Dips: Recipes Featuring Microgreens!

A Personal Note About Artichokes

Both of these recipes also feature artichoke hearts. Artichokes are a special food in my family. My parents lived in California at the beginning of their marriage, before I existed. They lived in one of the regions where most of the country’s artichokes are farmed, and they learned to love this edible flower bud. It became a family tradition that endured even after they moved to Indiana, where artichokes are less common. I grew up loving them and I’ve tried time after time to grow them in my garden, even though that is challenging here. I’m getting better at it, and I continue to try every year, though I’ve never succeeded. Maybe this year will be the year I get to harvest a fresh artichoke from my garden. I hope so. Meanwhile, I buy them once in a while. They’re available from most grocery stores in cans and jars, and sometimes you can find them frozen or even fresh. During both two years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I attended the annual Castroville Artichoke Festival. I once took third place in an artichoke eating contest (which is all about strategy rather than stomach capacity). I always dressed up for the occasion.

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Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie, With a Real Pumpkin

Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  Today, my family will sit down together to enjoy some heirloom recipes passed down from my grandmother, some of my mother’s exquisite culinary creations, and my contribution to our table, a Maple Vanilla Pumpkin Pie.  Most of the ingredients in this pie are available fresh right now in our part of the world, and one day soon I hope to grow these ingredients for a true farm-to-table pumpkin pie.  The fresh baked pumpkin and dark maple syrup combine to make this pie a truly unique, hearty, seasonal delight.  Try it for yourself!

Filling Ingredients (inspired by this recipe):

  • 1 pie pumpkin
  • 1 TB coconut oil
  • 2 cups fresh milk or 1 12 oz can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of the darkest maple syrup you can find.  None of that light amber stuff!
  • 1 heaping TB all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Crust Ingredients (inspired by this recipe):

  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter (4 oz), cold and cubed, plus more for greasing the pie plate
  • 1/4 c ice water

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400°F.
  2. Slice the pie pumpkin in half lengthwise (such that you cut around the stem).  Cut out and discard the stem piece.  Use a spoon to scrape out and discard all the seeds and stringy parts from the inside of the pumpkin.
  3. Grease a baking sheet with coconut oil.  Rub the rest of the coconut oil into the insides of the two pumpkin halves.
  4. Place the two pumpkin halves cut side down on the baking sheet.  Bake until you smell a delicious caramelized pumpkin scent.  This takes about 30 minutes, but it could take longer depending on the size of your pumpkin.  When done, the pumpkin skin should be bubbled and the flesh should be very soft and fork tender.  Cooking too long is better than not enough, but take care not to burn it.
  5. While pumpkin is baking, combine milk and maple syrup in a small pan.  Simmer over medium heat while stirring occasionally until reduced to 1 1/2 cups.  If using fresh milk, this will take more time than if using evaporated milk, but the end result will be similar.
  6. While the pumpkin is baking and the maple milk is simmering, make your crust.  See directions below!
  7. When your pumpkin has finished cooking, and has cooled enough to handle, scrape out the flesh and pack tightly into a 1.5 cup measure.  Set aside any extra pumpkin flesh for pumpkin soup, smoothies, or another pie.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350, to prepare it for the pie.
  9. Add pumpkin, maple milk mixture, flour, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon to a food processor or blender.  Puree until very smooth.
  10. In a mixing bowl, carefully beat eggs until thoroughly mixed, but try not to whip any air into them.
  11. Pour pumpkin mixture into eggs.  Mix thoroughly.
  12. Pour pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie crust.  Bake uncovered at 350°F for 70 minutes, or until firmly set.  You should be able to insert a toothpick into the middle of the pie, and see that it comes out clean.
  13. Cool, chill, and enjoy!

 

Pie Crust Directions:

 

  1. Pulse flour, salt, and butter in a food processor until blended.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can mash by hand with a fork.
  2. Slowly add the ice water while the food processor continues to run until a cohesive dough forms.  If mixing by hand, try not to knead this with your hands if possible.  It’s important to keep the dough cold, to create a flaky texture in the finished crust.  If you do have to knead it with your hands, then cover the dough and stash it in the freezer for 10 minutes before rolling.
  3. Liberally flour a pastry board, and roll your dough lightly until coated in flour.  Smash the dough down with your hands until it is about 1.5″ thick.
  4. Working from the center of your dough towards the edge, roll the dough flat with a rolling pin.  Bring the rolling pin back to the center of the dough, and this time roll the dough flat in the opposite direction.  Lift the dough, flip it over, and rotate it 1/4 turn.  Repeat until dough is round, about 1/4″ thick and sized to line your pie pan.
  5. Grease your pie pan with butter or coconut oil
  6. Lay your pie crust over the pie pan, and press it gently into place.  Using a sharp knife, trim away any pieces of dough that drape more than 1″ over the edge of the pie pan.  Roll the rest of the excess dough back towards the pie plate and crimp into place for a classic pie crust edge.  Cover and store in the refrigerator if you are not going to bake right away.

 

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