Sprouts. You know the ones I mean… Not the ones your Nana overcooked and force fed you at Christmas. I’m talking about the ones you find nestled amongst the salad veg at the supermarket, or at the health food shops in tiny packages with trendy hipster names that cost a fortune. The ones you buy with good intentions to adorn that salad you promised yourself you would eat this week, but which inevitably end up adorning the compost heap.
Yes, those sprouts.
Also known as sprouted grains, these guys are growing in popularity and are now enjoying cool kid status. And here is why you should be taking notice…
We like sprouting for three very good reasons; they are healthy, easy to grow and a cheap food source. Let’s start with the healthy bit.
An increase in popularity has gone hand in hand with an increase in research studies. Research so far has suggested that sprouted grains/seeds/legumes have more nutritional value than the whole grain alone. A sprouted grain is the stage of germination at which a ‘tail’ has sprouted from the kernel, and before it has turned into a fully fledged plant. When a grain sprouts it uses starch as the energy source to grow, this increases its level of accessible nutrients that are easily digested by our bodies. This means an increase in soluble and non-soluble fibre, antioxidant levels, vitamin C, folate, protein, and in the case of broccoli sprouts sulforaphane, a compound found in cruciferous vegetables that has been shown to provide powerful health benefits (not all sprouts are created equal! Some have higher levels of all this good stuff than others).
All this means that sprouts are an easy way to add fibre rich, nutrient dense foods to your plate. The good news here is- they are delicious. Fresh, crunchy and slightly sweet, they can be eaten as they are or tossed through salads, slaws, stir-fries, soups, stews or even roasted. You can season them, dress them or bake them in breads to commit fully to the hipster life.
On to ease: You can sprout seeds, whole grains, beans, and lentils yourself at home. All you need is water, a container and a breathable lid. For example: I have just completed my own sprouting endeavour using alfalfa and green lentils, here's how I did it;
- I washed my grains, placed in a jar and covered with water. For my breathable lid I used some muslin I had in the deepest depths of the kitchen drawer and secured it to the container using an elastic band (from the bunched carrots in my veg box delivery).
- I left them to soak overnight, drained them the next morning, and have rinsed and drained the grains 2 -3 times daily.
- After just three days sat on my kitchen counter, I have two jars full to bursting with sprouts (so expect . Although you can buy all manner of contraptions and specially designed jars found across the web, I have found sprouting to be easy, using only what I had at home, not to mention cheaper.
Finally and perhaps the greatest feature of sprouting: it’s cheap. Trendy packs of pre-sprouted grains aside, sprouting is very accessible. As you can see from my own growing above, no special equipment is required. You can grow from a huge variety of grains and seeds, which are easily available and at a low cost. Which means anyone can do it. A small amount of seeds will go a long way. Take the teeny tiny chia seed – it will grow to twenty times their size when sprouting! Sprouted grains will take up more room on your plate than the whole grain alone, so you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck, and it’s a great way to make your meals go further.
If you are interested in SIY (Sprout It Yourself. #SIY I’m making it a thing), then for more information check out these folks who know a lot more about it than I do…
A note on health and safety; As with all raw foods, bacteria thrives at room temperature and can cause food poisoning. Once you have sprouted your grains (about 3 days) rinse and store in your fridge, consume within 3-4 days. Never eat foods that changed changed colour, smell or are oozing (ew, gross). Just use your common sense and enjoy sprouts at their fresh best.
For more information on sprouts and food safety visit nhs.uk and this great page by The Sprout People on sprout politics. Incidentally The Sprout People have a very good website with specific sprouting guides laid out for each pulse, seed and bean if you want to get really geeky about it.
If you are a sprout convert, like me, here is a salad recipe that uses autumn/winter veg and a mixture of sprouts to add texture and freshness to the plate (not to mention all those nutrients). This dish is vibrant and delicious, the bean and white onion purée also makes a very good dip for crunchy veg (or nachos. I was definitely thinking nachos).
Warm salad of Beetroot, chard and sprouted grains.
For the salad
- Four small beetroot (can use a mix of colours)
- 10-15 stalks of rainbow chard
- Mixed sprouts (I used green lentil, alfalfa and pea sprouts)
- Stale bread ripped into bite sized pieces
- Za’atar spice blend
- One large clove of garlic
For the white bean and onion purée
- Half a tin of haricot or any white bean (alternatively use dried beans, soaked overnight and cooked until tender)
- One white onion roughly chopped
- 100g firm tofu
- 1tbsp nutritional yeast
- Place your beetroots in a foil package with a generous amount of flaked or rock salt. Seal up the edges, making sure there is room in the foil package for the beetroots to steam. Put into a hot oven at 190-200c until you can pierce them easily with a knife.
- Meanwhile make your white bean and onion purée. Sauté the onion in a little oil with a pinch of salt until translucent, do not colour. Add to a high speed blender with the rest of the purée ingredients, whizz until smooth. Check for seasoning.
- Bake your croutons: toss the chunks of bread in some olive oil, salt and a generous pinch of za’atar. Bake in the oven at the same temp as your beetroot – checking them every five to ten minutes for colour. Once crispy and golden leave to one side to cool.
- Once your beetroot is ready, prepare the chard. Sauté the chard in a little oil with sliced garlic. For larger stems, remove the leaf and cook the stems first, until tender and then add the delicate leaves for the final few minutes.
- Time to assemble; add a couple of tbsp of the white bean and onion to the plate and use it as a base for the rest of your ingredients. Arrange wedges of beetroot on top, along with the sautéed chard and croutons. Toss your sprouts in a little olive oil, squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper before adding them to the salad. To finish add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous pinch of za’atar.
Post and recipe by Kyrsten Collis @vegboxvegan