In Spinning Plates, cook and self-professed vegetable enthusiast Julia Sherman (you might know her as Salad for President) shares how you, too, can make your way in and around the kitchen with confidence.
Sprouted legumes, beans, and grains transport me to the safest place on earth—the small, independently owned health-food store, with its veggie wraps, macro bowls, and unbridled optimism. In my current cooped-up-housewife-gone-wild state of mind, I am finding comfort in grassroots cooking. Healthy eating will make you feel secure in a world that is spinning out of control, if not only for the fleeting duration of a single meal.
I am, of course, trying to avoid frequent trips to the market, which means I am getting creative with what I have. This brings me to the project du jour: sprouting. If you are like me, suddenly saddled with the responsibility of daily child care at the expense of your own work, you will relish a project that spoon-feeds you small doses of accomplishment and near instant gratification (plus, this is fun for the little ones, too—it’s like growing a micro garden). When you sprout legumes and grains, you take them from their stable seed form and germinate them to become a micro seedling. Today you have bone-dry lentils, and in two days you’ll have a big ole jar of curly-tailed (living!) sprouts.
Beyond cheap thrills, there are concrete health benefits to sprouting. Legumes, beans, and nuts can be challenging to digest (you know what I am talking about). They contain antinutrients, compounds that block your ability to absorb essential nutrients, specifically calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Unless you are eating beans exclusively (and some of us might be right now), you aren’t in danger of malnutrition, but you could be getting more from each serving. Sprouting breaks down antinutrients and enzymes, making the legumes easier on the tummy and rendering vitamins and minerals bioavailable. Sprout beans before cooking and you might change your relationship with them forever.
I use what I have in my pantry, but there is a whole world of seeds sold specifically for this purpose, from onion seeds to the age-old coop mascot, alfalfa. Here’s how to start sprouting.
Nuts won’t sprout in the traditional sense (meaning, they won’t grow visible roots), but extended soaking makes them more nutritious, more digestible, and exponentially tastier. As soon as I get a new bag of nuts, I soak and sprout them, roast them, and then store them in a cool, dark place for imminent use, or in the freezer if I don’t intend to use them right away. (You should always freeze nuts if not using them immediately. Their oils are not stable and they do go bad.)
Here’s how to do it:
- Soak 2 cups of nuts in 3 cups of warm water with 1 tsp of fine sea salt.
- Place the nuts on your countertop for 12 hours.
- Strain them and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
- Spread the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and dry them out in an oven set to 250 degrees Fahrenheit for five hours or more (wait until they are completely cool to test for doneness; they will still be soft while warm). You can raise the heat and roast them faster, but the flavor will be more toasted, less neutral.
Take it one step further and make my seasoned lemony roasted almonds, perfect for salads and snacking throughout the day—I always have these in the house.
Sprouted Snacking Almonds
2 cups raw almonds
1 tsp fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, zest and juice
Submerge the nuts in 3 cups of water with one teaspoon of fine sea salt for 12 hours. Pat them dry on a clean kitchen towel. Toss the nuts with olive oil, the zest of one lemon, the juice of half a lemon, and an additional pinch of fine sea salt. Set them aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the nuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet (it’s okay if the liquid pools). Bake for 5 hours, until the nuts are deep brown in color. While still hot, squeeze the juice of the remaining half a lemon over the nuts and season to taste with fine sea salt and nutritional yeast. Allow them to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Legumes and Grains
Lentils, dried chickpeas, farro, wheat berries, and mung beans: These are just a few pantry items waiting to inhabit their optimal sprouted state. Once sprouted, you can eat them raw, toss them with cooked grains for texture, sprinkle them on salads, or use them as a crunchy topping for soups. You can also use them as a substitute for cooked legumes in recipes like veggie burgers, lentil fritters, and blended dips (such as hummus). Shallow pan–fry them and they make a guilt-free crispy garnish (fried sprouted farro sprinkled with sea salt is irresistible).
Each legume/grain will sprout at a slightly different rate, so the key is to just keep an eye on them, taste along the way, and decide for yourself when they are done. In general, small legumes like red, green, or beluga lentils (my personal favorite) will soak overnight and sprout in two days. Larger legumes such as chickpeas should soak for 24 hours and won’t start to visibly sprout for two to three days. Some dried legumes intended for cooking are irradiated to prevent sprouting on the shelf—this will be disclosed on the package. For guaranteed success, make sure you buy nonirradiated legumes.
The basic technique goes like this:
- Soak the legumes/grains in a glass jar with one part legume to 3 parts water for 8 hours before straining.
- Affix a piece of light cotton cloth or two layers of cheesecloth to the top of the jar with a rubber band. Cheesecloth allows you to strain the water from the jar without losing any valuable grains or legumes (tap the top to make sure there are no legumes stuck to the cloth, where they will dry out faster). If you use cotton cloth, strain the legumes into a sieve and then return them to the jar after each rinse. You can also purchase sprouting tops for mason jars, a worthwhile investment if you are integrating this into your daily life.
- After the initial soak, the goal is to keep the contents of the jar hydrated and clean. Fill the jar with clean water, swish, and drain regularly (twice a day or more)—and be sure to eliminate excess water in the jar.
- The legumes/grains can be kept at room temperature in a spot with decent air circulation while sprouting. Sunlight won’t bother them.
- Once they are sprouted to your liking, dump them out onto a kitchen towel and spread them in a single layer. Let them dry out for about 30 minutes. Lay a damp piece of paper towel on the bottom of a food storage container. Spread the sprouts out and seal the container.
My favorite use of sprouted legumes is a super-crunchy, addictive bar snack of crispy roasted chickpeas with smoked paprika and garlic. The sprouted chickpea results in a much lighter, airier result than a canned chickpea ever will.
Sprouted Smoky Chickpeas
Note: Wait until the chickpeas have all sprouted to fry. They should have visible little white tails (it’s okay if they are just poking through).
1 cup sprouted chickpeas, thoroughly patted dry
¼ cup neutral oil (such as grape-seed)
¼ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and set a piece of newspaper next to the stove.
Place a large cast-iron pan over a high flame. When the pan is hot, add the oil. When the oil is glistening, add the chickpeas. Fry them in the pan for 5 minutes, until they start to turn light golden brown. Transfer the pan to the oven for 10 minutes.
Remove the chickpeas from the pan with a slotted spoon to the newspaper to absorb excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and seasonings immediately, and roll the chickpeas around to coat.
With the exception of mung and adzuki beans, I cook sprouted beans of the larger variety (I am talking cannellini, kidney, and black beans). Think of the sprouting time as an amplified presoak, breaking down the starch/carbohydrates, increasing dietary fiber, and making the beans much easier to digest .
The process for sprouting larger beans is the same as above, but once sprouted, prepare them as you would dried beans, simmering in salted/seasoned water or broth. The cook time will be much shorter than it is with dried beans, so just keep an eye on them as they simmer. Eat them as they are or use them to make dips. Once sprouted, they can be stored in a jar in the fridge (as long as there is no standing water in the container) until you are ready to cook. Time to enjoy a new world of possibilities for your pantry staples.