May 09, 2022
In a North Indian home sprouts simply exist. They are seemingly everywhere in our cuisine. Every night I remember some kind of legume soaking in small stainless steel bowls knows as katoris in our kitchen along with almonds. No one gives up their day job to learn how to sprout. We just do it and we constantly find ways to weave them into our daily meals and snacks. They are so prevalent that even five-star hotels will incorporate sprouts in some way into their buffets or their menus as side salads or sprinkled over other dishes. But, just because we have seen our mothers and grandmothers turn seeds into beautiful little sprouts brimming with protein and living energy, doesn't mean that the process comes intuitively to all of us. That's why in this post I'll show you how I do it. Along with some photos and some tips on what to do and what not to do you'll become an expert in no time at all. First, though, I want to give you one of my simplest ways to use sprouts - in a spicy-tangy side salad. And, if you want check out this interview with Chef Hans and our respective sprouting techniques by clicking here. And, check back over the next few days as I add more photos and tips.
1/2 cup sprouts (I've used moong in the photo)
1/2 small red or yellow onion, finely diced
1/2 small tomato, diced
1-2 green Thai or serrano chiles, stems removed, and minced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon kala namak, black salt or chaat masala
1/4 teaspoon red chile powder or cayenne pepper
Carefully stir all the ingredients together in a deep bowl. Serve immediately as a fun salad or on the side of an Indian meal. You can refrigerate for later, but it's fresher when eaten immediately. You can also mix it together and add the lemon juice just before serving for maximum freshness.
Sprouting is a process. It takes a few days to get there and there are key steps along the way you'll want to follow. The first is to note that you can only sprout from a whole legume (beans, peas, or lentils), seed (chia), or grain (brown rice or barley). If you have a split version of any of them - just cook them up and eat them because they will not sprout. They need to start by being intact. You couldn't take half a seed and expect it to grow, right? Same idea. Different products sprouts in different ways and at different times. While soaking first is good for most legumes, it's not the way you sprout Chia seeds (I found out that hard way). I will give you specific instructions on Chia later. And, because different items sprout at different times, it's better to soak and sprout them separately. Once they have sprouted you can mix them together and store them in your fridge. If you try to sprout them together then the ones like black chickpeas that take longer will require more water and time on the counter, while the other sprouts like Moong may start to brown and go bad during that process. For best results, keep them separate.
EQUIPMENT: The most common question I am asked is if you need special equipment to sprout? The easy answer is 'nope'. All you truly need is a bowl and a plate or tray. I also do use a strainer to make draining super easy (I have a small and large one) and glass jars to store my sprouts. You can find sprouting jars out there with mesh lids to make draining easier. They work pretty well, too. Often, they are pretty large and are not always my go-to for sprouting smaller daily quantities. You can also find smaller mason jars and you can attach a mesh lid to them. Be careful, some sprouting contraptions are made from plastic. I would suggest sticking with metal or glass, both are the best way to store any food item. But, if you don't want to mess with any of that, make it super simple for now - just use a bowl and small strainer. All the other stuff can come later if you decide this is something you want to stick with.
Step 1 - SOAK OVERNIGHT: Once you find something you'd like to sprout (the easiest is moong bean pictured above). Soak it in water for at least 8 hours to overnight. Typically, room temperature water out of the tap is recommended (so you don't compromise the sprouting process with high heat), but in some cases like with moong, the water should be hot to make sure every bean soaks. Even this week, when I tried soaking moong with room temp water, about a third of them stayed hard. It's a real pain because if that happens, then you have to pick them out and separate them from the sprouted ones. I soak my moong in hot, boiling water from my kettle. I boil the water, let it sit 5-10 minutes to cool off a bit, and then pour it over my moong. And, guess what? Ever single moong bean soaks and sprouts beautifully. I would not use the hot, boiling water on other legumes and seeds - use room temperature water in that case. If in other cases you find some of the product does not soak, then experiment with warm or hot water for soaking. Just a tip that I've learned the hard way. Keep in mind that once you use the hot water for soaking, do not heat the sprouts or you will essentially kill the living energy.
Step 2 - DRAIN WELL: Once you soak, you must drain your future sprouts. They have not sprouted yet and in order to get them to sprout, you want to be sure they remain slightly damp and don't dry out. But, they should not be drenched for too long or they can spoil. There's a sweet spot between the two. There is no need to towel dry them, just be sure to drain away the excess water. This is critical because you don't want any water pooling and resulting in bacteria or making your sprouts slimy. This is the step that often gets overlooked and why many folks think sprouting is complicated. They often leave their soaking legumes and seeds for too long and then they start to spoil. Draining is super easy. I use a fine mesh strainer - a small one for small amounts and my large one for larger volumes of product. I hold the strainer over the sink, dump the product with the water in, let it drain, and then give it a rinse with clean water. Then, I will place this strainer over a bowl so that there is room below and any extra water can drip down. It's super simple. I do this in the morning after soaking and let it sit that way all morning. Typically, you'll notice that your product will start to push out of its shell even on this first day of sprouting. Some will take longer. Be patient.
Step 3 - RINSE OR SPRITZ, DRAIN, REPEAT, AND WAIT: On the second morning again rinse your future sprouts and drain. Or, using a spray bottle filled with water simply spritz the legumes, seeds, or whole grains. What this does is continue to provide moisture without soaking again. You may have to do this a few days in a row. As the sprouts really start I sometimes shift them to a dry dishcloth on a tray and loosely wrap them. I know some folks who put them in a muslin cloth and wrap them as they continue to sprout.
REPEAT STEP 3 UNTIL YOUR SPROUTS ARE WHERE YOU WANT THEM. You can eat the sprouts as soon as the pop through and grow a little 'tail'. Or, you can wait a few days repeating step 3 until their shoot gets longer. It's totally up to you. Keep in mind, however, you don't want them sitting on the counter way too long and dry up or start to spoil. Why I personally don't keep them sitting for too, too long.
REFRIGERATE AND EAT: Once your sprouts have started really growing, put them in a glass or metal container and place them in the fridge. Now, you can pull them out as you like to make salads out of, grind into crepes, sprinkle into salads, add to soup, and even as a layer of crunch on a sandwich.
WHY SPROUTS? Sprouts are the germinated seeds of vegetables and are literally growing as you eat them (now I feel a little guilty - lol). Nutritional value alone should encourage you to eat sprouts, whether you grow them yourself or purchase them. The specifics vary depending on the type of plant, but generally sprouts are high in protein and other minerals including folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K. In fact, sprouts have higher amounts of these nutrients than fully-grown versions of the same plants. Many foods can be made from sprouts including tofu and soy milk. I once had sprouted hummus in a farmers market in San Francisco. These foods have higher levels of protein and less fat than their counterparts not made with sprouts. If you are interested in keeping your gut flushed, raw sprouts are a terrific way to do just that. I am a firm believer that your body starts to crave what it needs. You will start loving this sprout addiction. Your gut will be more flushed and you'll feel fuller without eating processed foods or random snacks.
HOW DO THEY TASTE? Depending on the plant they grow up to be, sprouts taste slightly different. A fenugreek or radish sprout will be slightly tangy, moong bean sprouts taste grassy, earthy, and packed with moisture, a broccoli sprout tastes slightly grassy. Many folks wrinkle their noses at the idea of eating sprouts. Not to worry - even my Indian American husband did. His family never ate sprouts growing up in the Chicago suburbs. The first time I made a batch he was skeptical. He now asks for them because they are so good and you feel so satisfied eating them. My kids were the same way - but now they grab handfuls and eat them raw. I am going to be honest - I've been giving our dog Oliver sprouts on the side and he freaking loves them! Don't worry about what your family thinks or says. Just sprout a few and leave them lying around. They'll try them on their own.
AREN'T THEY EXPENSIVE? Sprouts are pretty darn expensive when you purchase them. Some I still purchase like sunflower seed sprouts and the very long and crunchy moong sprouts. I don't have the bandwidth to grow those myself. But, for everything else, for mere pennies I can grow it at home. Likely, you have whole moong and other lentils one hand. Maybe you purchased that bag of fenugreek seeds for an Indian meal and never got through it? Well, here you go. Here's a way to clear that pantry and use up whatever you have lying around. As I continue to think of ways to save pennies for my family as inflation takes off, sprouting is a key part of my day and routine.
TIPS & TRICKS: Once your sprouts start growing it's important to move them around or shake them a bit. You don't want them sitting in the same way compressed in a jar or perhaps layered on a tray without some movement or they can go bad. This simply means that if they are in a jar shake that jar once or twice. If they are on a tray take a hand and move them around a bit. You don't have to do much, but just make sure they don't sit stagnant.
TEN WAYS TO EAT SPROUTS
1. BY THE SPOONFUL: One day visiting my mom in Pennsylvania I saw her eat a spoonful of sprouts first thing in the morning and the light bulb went off. I always thought I needed to add this ingredient or that and when I didn't get to it right away, my sprouts would go bad. But, instead, eat a spoonful before a meal. This way, you get your plant-based fiber and protein and really take the hunger edge off. It's become my morning regimen. I have my green power smoothie first and then a large spoonful of sprouts and then my coffee. Even when I am traveling and don't have access to green smoothies, I take a large baggie or container of sprouts and keep it on hand to eat on my trip. No lie. Most sprouts are just fine outside the fridge, and many rooms have tiny fridges to boot. I did this very thing on a recent ski trip to Colorado and just this one ingredient on hand kept me on my healthy eating track and prevented me from random snacking. Did my family laugh at me? Yes. Were they munching on sprouts, too at some point? Yes!
2. ADD TO A SMOOTHIE: Love that morning smoothie? Throw in a tablespoon of sprouts and drink your nutrition, protein, and fiber. You'll barely notice them in there and what I love about this idea is that if you are not as familiar with eating sprouts it gives your body an easy and daily introduction to them. Again, your body gets used to whatever you give it. It takes kids at least 10 tries to like something non sweet (maybe more for adults?). Why, if you don't care for the taste of sprouts at first - not to worry, keep at it. At the very least you'll get used to them. And who knows, you may just start to crave them as we do in our family.
3. SPRINKLE INTO A SALAD. One of the easiest ways to consume sprouts is to add them to your leafy greens. They add an added crunch and sweetness. In all likelihood you'll never even know they are actually in there - but you'll pack in the nutrition.
4. SMASH INSIDE A SANDWICH OR BURGER: You may think of alfalfa sprouts in a delicious sandwich. The truth is, you can add any sprouts to a sandwich or burger - and on a veggie burger - yum!
5. Sprout Chaat: This is the most common way we eat sprouts in North India. We add crunch from onion, heat from chile, lemon juice and spices. The recipe is above and it is phenomenally addictive and incredibly easy with the right ingredients.
6. Add to your soup just before serving. I like to add fenugreek sprouts to my soups for an added crunch and a very slight bitter taste profile. You don't want to cook them in your soup, or you'll kill off all the amazing properties. Just toss in a teaspoon after doling out a bowl. I add sprouts and a teaspoon of quinoa as well.
CAN YOU FREEZE SPROUTS? Yes and no. Most fruit and veggies are frozen right at their peak of ripeness so really lock in nutrition. The issue with sprouts is that they will lose their crunchy appeal when they start to defrost. Any frozen vegetable when it starts to defrost will lose that crunch because its cell walls are broken down during the process. It's up to you if that's okay or not. Maybe not if you eat them on their own, but maybe they would be okay if you are adding them to smoothies or making crepes out of them?
... more to come ...
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