Hydroponically Speaking

by Kerry Dunnington

In mid-February, Martha Lucius, (owner Bohème Café) and I catered a luncheon for a local buyer-grower meeting. The proviso was in keeping with my food philosophy, to source organic local farmers, using seasonal food. Sourcing organic local farmers was easy, compared to sourcing seasonal food, because Maryland farms aren’t producing fruits and vegetables in February.

With the science of hydroponic farming, fruits and vegetables can be grown in areas where climate and/or soil are unsuitable. Perfect tomatoes can be grown in the desert or in the middle of winter! Hydroponic farming is one of this year’s most popular food trends. Other than sprouts, hydroponic lettuce is the only fresh, locally sourced food available this time of year in Maryland.  For the buyer-grower luncheon, I sourced Andrew Maniscalo of Chesapeake Greenhouse who produces a variety of hydroponic lettuce including Boston, red and green oak, romaine, lola rosa, arugula and mizuna.

Andrew explained hydroponics [hi-druh-PON-iks] is the science of growing plants in a liquid nutrient solution rather than in soil. The plants are supported in a sterile, inert medium, called rockwool, and are regularly flooded with a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. The solution is drained off and reused until it is no longer beneficial. The air and light in a hydroponic enclosure is strictly controlled to insure optimal production. Increased yields are further insured because hydroponically grown vegetables can be planted much closer together than those in the field. Another bonus, hydroponic farmers are not beset by weeds and pests; their crops are pesticide free.

As we enter into spring and the months of April and May, not much more is in season in Maryland than was in February. Arugula, asparagus, (April) and baby spinach have nudged their way through winter’s soil. Another of this year’s biggest food trends is to top anything with an egg. For this issue’s recipe, I’ve coated assorted hydroponic lettuce leaves with a zesty vinaigrette dressing and a “froached” egg.

My first experience eating a “froached” egg was in a B&B in Scotland. Our hostess explained a “froached” egg is by way of method. Instead of poaching, (the water based method) eggs are fried in oil. Here’s where they turn from being fried to poached to “froached,” a “wee bit” of water is added after the eggs have begun frying, eggs are covered with a tight fitting lid which creates the steaming method used to poach eggs.

In my recipe for froached eggs over seasoned fresh greens, warm soft cooked eggs pair beautifully with the delicate and perfectly seasoned hydroponic grown lettuce leaves. Roasted sunflower seeds and sprouts give this dynamic combination wonderful texture.



Froached Eggs Over Seasoned Fresh Greens


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Several grindings fresh ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup olive oil

In a two-cup capacity jar with a tight fitting lid, combine salt, pepper, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Cover and shake until ingredients are combined.  Keep dressing at room temperature until ready to use.


  • Four generous handfuls lettuce
  • leaves, torn into bite size pieces
  • Canola oil, about 1-2 tablespoons
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Roasted and salted sunflower seeds,
  • about a scant tablespoon per person
  • Sprouts

In a large bowl, toss salad greens with dressing, just enough to coat the leaves. Divide salad greens among four shallow serving bowls. In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat canola oil, add eggs one at a time, season with salt and pepper, add water, (should be just enough to cover bottom of pan) cover, cook for about one minute or until white is firm and yellow is soft. Top salad greens with froached egg and desired amount of sunflower seeds and sprouts. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

The additions to the salad are many and varied; asparagus, tomatoes, crispy bacon, cucumber, crumbled blue cheese, avocado, roasted fennel, shredded carrots, sautéed mushrooms or roasted peppers can be tossed with the greens with great results. Croutons add an elegant touch and crunch.

Preparation Tip:

Allow eggs to come to room temperature before cooking. serve for lunch or dinner, as a first course or light main entrée.


Kerry Dunnington is the author of This Book Cooks and is a member of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance & Slow Food International.


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