Consider the sprout. To some, alfalfa sprouts and their crunchy kin may be little more than mock-inducing ingredients commonly accompanied by the word, “dude.” But it’s time to give the sprout its due respect!
Ancient Chinese physicians were prescribing sprouts curatively over 5,000 years ago and 18th century sea captains employed them to prevent scurvy on long passages. They can be grown easily and quickly in any climate and don’t rely on soil or sun. They require few resources and create no waste. Plus they have tremendou health benefits and don’t require cooking. What’s not to admire? And if you’re caught up on the hippie-food factor, just recast them as haute microgreens and you’re all set. Basically, they are perfect.
What you’ll need
- Wide-mouthed jars; you can used canning jars or reuse jars you have, making sure they’ve been cleaned and sanitized.
- Mesh or cheesecloth and something to secure it to the jar (as in, a rubber band). If you use a canning jar, you can place the mesh on top and secure it by screwing on just the ring part of the lid.
Selecting the seedsThere are the usual suspects – alfalfa and mung beans (from which common bean sprouts come) – but there are many other options. Try radish, lentils, mustard, soy beans, beets, peas, broccoli, sunflower and wheat berries, to name just a few.
The important thing here is that you purchase seeds that are specifically for sprouting; they will be labeled. These chemical-free seeds have been cleaned and are pathogen-free. Commercially grown sprouts have been the cause of illness outbreaks in the past (primarily salmonella and e. Coli), generally because of contaminated seeds; so make sure yours are intended for sprouting. To address safety concerns, the University of California recommends only using certified pathogen-free seeds for srpouting (good sources for such include Burpee Seed and and Sprout People).
And ... sprout!Sanitize your jars and prepare the seeds in a very clean area ... not amidst a dirty kitchen or near pets and high household traffic.
- Wash the seeds or beans. Place one or two tablespoons of seeds in the jar (make sure they don’t take up more than a quarter of the jar; they will expand a great deal) and cover with a few inches of water and secure the mesh or cheesecloth on top. Let soak for 8 to 12 hours at room temperature.
Drain the seeds and rinse them, then drain again. Find an area out of direct sunlight and place the jars upside-down, but at an angle to allow drainage and air-circulation through the mesh. You can get a custom sprouting rack or try a dish rack or just a bowl.
- Rinse and drain the seeds between two and four times a day, making sure that they never dry out completely.
- As soon as they are big enough, harvest! This generally takes from three to seven days – and as little as one day – depending on what you’re sprouting. Lentils and mung beans, for instance, may just take a day or two. Sprouts are at their best when they’re still on the relatively small side and just starting to turn green.
Give them a final rinse and allow them to drain very well in a colander, removing any unsprouted seeds. Once they are dry, store them in a covered bowl and use within a week. All sprouts can be eaten raw, and all but the most delicate (like alfalfa) can be gently cooked as well.