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Hydroponics and Spicy Roasted Carrot, Avocado and Feta Salad

2010 March 31

Hydroponics, are you “in the know” about this agronomical technique? I had heard of it, but not until recently did I dive into that knowledge bank. I am a rich woman now…rich with the knowledge of hydroponics. I’m also a dork, rich in dorkiness.

The technique involves growing plants (roots) in water rich with specific nutrients instead of soil. For instance, I have been buying, from a local company, hydroponically grown lettuce and watercress. I love it because the leaves are clean of dirt (but you still need to rinse and dry the plant) and the lettuce looks much more robust than many of the soil versions. This could be due to the root system not focusing on spreading out in order to absorb more nutrients and water and instead, allows the growth to be focused above the root system, which is what you want. I’ve heard it yields a higher crop and not only with lettuce but for various other crops.

A benefit of this technique, being used around the world, is that the plant thrives at often lower costs to the grower. It’s easier to manage diseases, pests and there are no weeds, thanks to the method of growth and maintaining the nutrient rich water is easier to monitor. There are varying methods of growth (solution and medium culture) that would take me a lifetime to explain and if you are interested, do a quick search on the internet for more information on the subject. I think it’s fascinating.

Hydroponic watercress, golden beet and watermelon (aka red Valentine) radish

I used my hydroponic watercress in today’s dish that came from Sippity Sup. I am happy to report that Greg, from that site, is kind and responsive in this often cruel, ignorant world of blogging. Thanks, Greg!

In honor of this, I decided to make a salad and I don’t do that for just anyone. Granted, this is more of a root vegetable salad than one with a lot of lettuce and exactly what I enjoy. (I skipped the mustard greens that Greg had in his recipe.) I get bored with too much lettuce…until I found the beautiful hydroponically grown kind that improved my opinion of the leafy greens. He was inspired by Smitten Kitchen and Jamie Oliver-both are very inspirational in my opinion as well. Love them.

Greg (not my husband) found heirloom carrots but I wasn’t that lucky so I decided to add color by using a watermelon (red Valentine) radish and golden beets. They are not needed but if you want to add more root veggies, use what looks best in the store. I just happened to come across these at my local co-op.

I loved the creaminess of the goat cheese (Sup’s idea) with the spice but I also tried feta and that suited my tastebuds better. You can’t go wrong with either cheese. I changed a few of the amounts but not much else.

Some of you might see that you need to roast and crush the seeds and might skip this recipe because of that but don’t, you can use already crushed/powder spices but my opinion is that you should do it yourself on this one. I think you will definitely notice the difference. Topped with watercress, although you can use your favorite green, this is a winner. My Greg raved about this for hours. He was quite happy with the lingering flavors and would grunt this happiness every 5 minutes. (Mmmmmm like he was in pain but pain that tastes so good.) This is a recipe you must try-the flavors together are amazing.

Spicy Roasted Carrots, Avocado and Feta Salad

Spicy Roasted Carrot, Avocado and Feta Salad
Serves 2

Ingredients:
1⁄2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp anise seeds
1 tsp black sesame seeds
¼ to 1⁄2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 tbsp olive oil
1⁄2 lb. carrots, scrubbed and halved lengthwise (I also cut them in half)-heirlooms of various colors are great but if you can’t find them, add other root veggies of varying color
1 large red Valentine radish (aka watermelon), peeled and thinly sliced-optional
1 large golden beet, peeled and thinly sliced-optional
1/2 avocado, peeled and sliced
3 tbsp tarragon vinegar (they do have this in chain stores by Heinz)
1 tsp sea salt, plus 1 tbsp for the boiling water (I used Halen Mon)
3 oz feta or goat cheese, softened and crumbled (I loved feta)
1/2 small bunch of watercress, washed and trimmed of thick stems
2 slices of toasted, rustic bread cut into 1-inch cubes

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a small pan, on medium heat, toast the seeds until fragrant, 1 or 2 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle crush the toasted seeds, red pepper flakes and salt until the seeds are well pulverized. Add the minced garlic, orange zest and the olive oil. Work the mixture into a chunky paste.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add about 1 tablespoon of salt and the halved carrots, sliced radish and beet (optional). Boil until barely cooked, about 7 minutes. Drain them in a colander and toss, in a bowl, with the spice paste. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and roast in the oven until the vegetables are browned and fully cooked, about 25 minutes.

Halfway through the roasting, combine the orange juice and vinegar. Peel and slice the avocados; tossing them in the vinegar/orange juice until ready to serve the salad. (They turn dark rather quickly so be mindful of that.) Don’t forget to toast the rustic bread pieces for 10 to 15 minutes in the oven at 350.

To serve, spread the vegetables on a serving plate and top them with the toasted bread, crumbled goat cheese or feta and watercress on top. Drizzle the vinegar/orange juice mixture over this and place the avocado on the sides to finish. Serve warm with a sprinkle of sea salt.

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