Photos by Shannon Richardson

Amarillo’s Katie Hodges has turned tiny leaves into a big business. The owner of Hodgepodge Farm—an urban farm in southwest Amarillo—she grows a variety of microgreens, selling the power-packed veggies to local restaurants as well as the general public.

“Microgreens are just baby plants,” she explains.

Hodges points to a series of shallow trays, grown in a backyard greenhouse. Tiny leaves and stems—around an inch or two tall—poke up from a bed of damp soil, reaching toward the artificial grow lights. She identifies them: “This is a salad mix. That’s cabbage. Broccoli, red amaranth, spicy mustard, radish, cabbage. These are basil,” she says.

The term “microgreens” refers to the first sets of leaves a seedling grows, tiny shoots that fuel a plant’s early stages before it develops “real” leaves. (From a technical standpoint, these baby leaves are known as cotyledon leaves.) When harvested before maturity, these leaves are packed with nutrition and intense flavor.

“They are four to 40 times more nutritious than mature plants,” Hodges says, “because you’re getting all that nutrition for the baby plant.”

They grow quickly, too, which means there’s no need for pesticides or herbicides. “I’m putting nothing but water on these plants,” she says.

The tiny shoots are usually consumed raw. Nutritionists love microgreens as a powerful source of fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Home cooks like to include them on soups and salads, or in sandwiches and smoothies. And chefs love microgreens because they add a healthy, visually striking garnish to a dish. That’s why Hodges has built a business clientele of local restaurants that seek out her products, including Girasol Cafe & Bakery, OHMS Cafe & Bar, Cask & Cork and Six Car Pub & Brewery. “The restaurants like the prettiness of [microgreens], but they are so nutritious. Broccoli is about the most nutrient-dense microgreen you can get,” she adds.

Hodges also sells her products at the ongoing Lil’ Ranchers Farmers Market and, this summer, at the Canyon Farmers Market.

Chef Sam Blackburn, a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute and a corporate chef with Sodexo, has been relying on Hodges’ microgreens for several years. He says most professional chefs appreciate microgreens for a variety of reasons, starting with appearance. “They set your dishes off better than the traditional minced parsley dusting we’re so accustomed to,” he says. “They add a textural component and a little bit of nutritional value.”

Personally, Blackburn loves to use fresh microgreens in salad. “We’ll just toss them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. They’re a nice salad by themselves and a great way to get your nutrients,” he says. The two recipes included here were developed by Blackburn.

The tiny size and short growth cycle allow Hodges to grow her microgreens in a relatively small indoor space, and she spent years cultivating the tiny plants indoors. But this spring, she moved her operation into a sizable backyard greenhouse.

“It just keeps growing,” she says of Hodgepodge Farm. “I love the fact of letting people be able to afford their food and knowing what’s on it. I was just kind of meant for it,” she says.

PHOTO BY GARNISH PHOTOGRAPHY

Grilled Lamb Chops/Chipotle Raspberry Reduction/Blueberry Lacquered Baby Carrots/Radishes/Lion’s Mane Mushrooms/Swiss Chard

6 ounces fresh raspberries
1 ½ cups cabernet
½ shallot, sliced thin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon chipotle powder
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon butter

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Simmer until almost syrupy. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Set aside.

12 to 14 baby carrots with tops
6 to 8 radishes, tops removed
2 (½ pints) blueberries
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss carrots and radishes in oil, season to taste. Lay on sheet tray and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, bring one ½ pint blueberries, balsamic and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer to a simmer and reduce by half. Blend, strain and return to pan.  Add remaining blueberries to pan. Brush blueberry reduction over carrots and spoon blueberries over top.

2 lion’s mane mushrooms, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 to 2 cups swiss chard, cut into ribbons
1 ½ tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Season both sides of mushrooms. Sear mushrooms for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Add swiss chard and garlic, saute 1 to 2 minutes.

4 lamb chops
Grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

Heat grill to medium high. Lightly coat each side of lamb chops with oil and season. Grill lamb chops quickly on both sides, until internal temperature reaches 125 degrees. Remove from heat; cover with foil and allow lamb to rest for 3 to 4 minutes.

To assemble, serve 1 lamb chop with 4 to 5 carrots and radishes and mushroom and swiss chard saute.  Drizzle lamb chop with raspberry reduction. Top with your favorite local microgreens.

Makes 4 servings

PHOTO BY GARNISH PHOTOGRAPHY

Espresso Rubbed Blue Cheese & Currant-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin/Asparagus/Peppers/Sweet Potatoes

½ cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon French herb blend from SALT Spices & Specialties
3 tablespoons Maille old-style mustard
3 tablespoons Zante currants
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon blue cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 pork tenderloins, silver skin removed
Espresso rub from SALT Spices & Specialties
Butcher’s twine

Combine shallots, parsley, French herb blend, mustard, currants and blue cheese in a bowl. Mix to combine and season with salt and pepper. Spread a piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Butterfly pork tenderloins, splitting down the middle, and then fan out on top of wrap. Cover with another layer of plastic wrap. Pound tenderloins with a mallet until about ½ inch thick. Remove top layer of plastic wrap and season inside with salt and pepper. Spread blue cheese mixture evenly on inside of pork, leaving about ¾ inch around edges. Roll the pork tenderloin so the stuffing remains on the inside. Season outside of tenderloins liberally with espresso rub. Tie 4 sections of the tenderloin with 4 lengths of butcher’s twine to hold it together. Using plastic wrap, tightly roll tenderloin up so it retains its shape. If available, vacuum seal. Otherwise, place in a Ziploc bag and slowly push them underwater, closing the bag after it has been submerged up to the opening. Set up a sous vide bath at 135 degrees and sous vide pork for 2 hours. Remove pork from bags and plastic; heat grill to medium high. Pat tenderloins dry, and then finish quickly on the grill, marking each side.

1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 tablespoon butter
1 bell pepper, julienned
1 tablespoon minced garlic

Bring large pot of water to a boil; salt heavily. Drop asparagus in boiling water and cook for roughly 3 minutes, then plunge directly into an ice bath. Heat butter in a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, season and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds more. Add asparagus, season with salt and pepper, and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.

2 sweet potatoes, medium dice
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Bacon salt from SALT Spices & Specialties
Pepper
Smoked garlic herb blend from SALT Spices & Specialties

In a large saute pan, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add sweet potatoes; season with bacon salt, pepper and smokey garlic herb blend. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

To serve, slice pork tenderloin into 2-inch lengths. Serve with 4 ounces sweet potatoes and 4 ounces asparagus and peppers.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

Hold the Tomatoes

Most vegetables and herbs are safe to consume as microgreens—but not all. A few crops are actually toxic at the seedling stage, including tomatoes and a few other members of the nightshade family (including peppers, eggplant and potatoes). The harmful compounds in their leaves and stems can cause illnesses, especially when consumed in high quantities.

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