Winter can't kill our gardener's urge for fresh, home-grown salad fixings. So we've found a way around winter -- with bean and seed sprouts grown in the warmth of our kitchens.
Although modern health food enthusiasts would like to think they invented indoor sprouting, this technique of germinating seeds and beans (referred to collectively as "seeds") was discovered by the Chinese hundreds of years ago. What the Chinese didn't know, however, is that when you sprout seeds, their vitamin and protein content increases tremendously. And, volume for volume, sprouts are much lower in calories than the seeds from which they come. A half-cup of cooked dry beans has more than 100 calories, while the same amount of sprouts has only 10 to 25, depending on the variety.
For sprouting, you can use the seeds of any plant that may be eaten in its entirety in mature form. Just be sure not to select seeds intended for planting, as these have been treated with a poisonous fungicide.
The most popular varieties for sprouting are alfalfa seeds and mung beans. Alfalfa sprouts, which are quite thin and about one to two inches long, usually have a few green leaves at the tip. Mung beans -- those familiar "Chinese bean sprouts" -- are bulkier, measure about 2 1/2 inches long and are typically leafless.
The seeds of cress, mustard, radish, lentil, soy, wheat, rye, red clover and fenugreek also work well for sprouting. And we especially enjoy the peppery taste of radish sprouts in salads and sandwiches.
To grow sprouts, place about two tablespoons of seeds in a large, wide-mouth jar. Cover the top with a piece of cheesecloth or nylon stocking, held securely in place with a rubber band. The covering, which will be left in place for the next several days, permits good air circulation and easy drainage. No other special equipment is needed. However, fancy "sprouters" are available in many health food stores. Some can even hold several different sprouts in one compartmentalized container.
Rinse seeds thoroughly by running warm water through the covering into the jar several times and draining. Then fill the jar two-thirds full of warm water. Soak seeds about four to eight hours or overnight. (Do not pre-soak cress or mustard, as this produces a gelatinous coating.) Pour off the soaking water and rinse seeds well. Turn the jar upside down to drain completely, since excess moisture promotes molding. Rinsing and draining should be repeated twice daily until the sprouts are ready to eat.
Since darkness supposedly helps to keep sprouts tender, you may want to store the jar in a cabinet or pantry. But it also can be left on the kitchen counter out of direct sunlight. Lay it on its side to give sprouts maximum growth area. When the crop is almost ready, you can "green up" sprouts on the windowsill for a day, although this step is not necessary.
The volume of seeds and beans will expand enormously as they sprout. In three to five days (depending on variety and room temperature), you will have a jar full of ready-to-eat young vegetables. Taste periodically to decide when to "harvest."
During sprouting, the husks of the seeds may loosen or fall off. Either eat these with the sprouts or, if you wish to remove them, immerse the harvested sprouts in a bowl of water to float husks away.
Once sprouts are ready, refrigerate in a covered container or plastic bag. (You can simply remove the cheesecloth and put the original top back on the sprouting jar.) The sooner you eat the sprouts, the greater the nutritional content and the better the taste. However, they will stay fresh for more than a week if kept cool and dry.
Use your tender, nutritious sprouts on sandwiches (they're tastier and cheaper than lettuce), in salads, soups and omelets. Or stir-fry them in a small amount of butter or oil and serve as a cooked vegetable. Be adventurous -- you're sure to enjoy this easy, satisfying indoor garden . . . any time of year.
(Note: Use only fresh sprouts in the following recipes. They are infinitely better than canned.)
CURRIED PASTA-SPROUT CASSEROLE (4 servings) 2 cups uncooked pasta spirals 1 cup grated cheddar cheese 3/4 cup plain yogurt 1 cup cottage cheese 1 egg, beaten 1 small onion, finely chopped 1/2 green pepper, chopped 2 1/2 cups mung bean sprouts 1 teaspoon curry powder Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup wheat germ
Cook pasta spirals according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, combine cheddar cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and egg in a large bowl. Stir to mix well. Drain cooked pasta and add to cheese mixture along with remaining ingredients except wheat germ. Mix well. Turn into a greased, 9- or 10-inch square baking pan or casserole. Sprinkle top with wheat germ. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes or until top is nicely browned and casserole has begun to bubble.
SPROUT AND POTATO OMELETS (Makes 3 or 4 omelets)
Filling: 2 tablespoons butter 2 cups shredded raw potato (1 large potato) 1 medium onion, chopped 1 clove garlic, minced Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup alfalfa sprouts
For omelets: 9 eggs 1/2 cup milk Dash salt and pepper 3 drops hot pepper sauce (optional) 3 tablespoons butter or margarine
To prepare filling, melt butter in a medium skillet. Add potatoes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute' over medium heat until potatoes are cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes). Stir often. Remove from heat and stir in sprouts. Keep warm while preparing omelets.
For omelets, beat eggs until fluffy. Beat in milk and seasonings. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a medium skillet over low heat. Add 1/3 of egg mixture. Cook slowly, keeping heat low. As undersurface of omelet sets, start lifting it slightly with a spatula to let uncooked portion flow underneath. As soon as omelet seems set, spread some of the filling on top. Fold and serve. Repeat for remaining omelets.
CHICKPEA AND SPROUT SALAD (4 to 6 servings) 15- or 16-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained 2 ribs celery, chopped 1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts
Dressing: 1 tablespoon cider vinegar 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 1 tablespoon honey 1 drop hot pepper sauce 1/8 teaspoon salt Dash pepper 1/2 cup vegetable oil Lettuce or other greens for serving
Combine chickpeas, celery and sprouts in a small bowl. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small jar. Shake or stir to blend well. Pour dressing over chickpea mixture. Marinate 2 hours at room temperature or 3 to 4 hours in refrigerator. Serve over crisp greens.
TURKEY AND SPROUT SALAD (4 servings)
This is a great way to use leftover turkey. 1 cup fresh bean sprouts (any kind) 2 cups diced cooked turkey 1 medium apple, cored and diced 1 rib celery, diced 1/4 cup raisins or currants 1/4 cup chopped unsalted nuts 1/3 cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons orange juice 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel (orange part only) Lettuce or other greens
Place bean sprouts, turkey, apple, celery, raisins and nuts in a medium bowl and mix lightly. In a small bowl, blend mayonnaise, orange juice and orange peel. Toss with turkey-sprout mixture until completely mixed. Serve on a bed of greens.
EGG FOO YONG (4 servings)
Egg pancakes: 6 large eggs, beaten 8 ounces mung bean sprouts 4 scallions, thinly sliced on diagonal 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced on diagonal 1 clove garlic, very finely minced Salt and pepper to taste 1 to 2 cups slivered, cooked chicken, beef, ham, pork, crab or tiny shrimp (optional) About 2 tablespoons oil
Sauce: 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1 teaspoon sugar 2 teaspoons soy sauce 1/2 cup chicken broth
Mix all egg pancake ingredients together except oil. Heat oil in a large skillet. Make either several individual pancakes using about 1/4 cup egg mixture for each or 1 large pancake using all of the mixture. Lightly brown on both sides. Place on serving dish and pour sauce on top.
To make sauce, mix cornstarch and sugar with soy sauce in small saucepan. Gradually add chicken broth and heat, stirring, until thickened.