The joke in Michigan is that we definitely experience all four seasons…sometimes three in one day.
Although the weather is inconsistent and sometimes crazy, like 40F temps in August, 80F in October or March, and swinging from 45F in the morning to 80F in the afternoon this time of year, I really do appreciate seasonality.
I embrace the turning of the fall leaves, the blustery winds that mean we can get out our tubs of sweaters and scarves, the advent of new green buds and unearthing the sandals again in the spring. I love that I can run outside barefoot and tend a garden (albeit not always so fruitfully) in the summer and keep extra food in the “garage fridge” – which is just shelves in the garage – in the cold winter months.
I look forward to the apple, pumpkin, and squash harvest this time of year while in the same breath mourn the impending disappearance of truly fresh food. I’ll have to leave the open air of the Farmer’s Markets soon and retreat to a weekly circuit trapped in the cement and metal crate of our local big box grocery store.
My lettuce, cucumbers, and other salad fixings will no longer be fresh from West Michigan soil, but rather the traveling sort, flown in from California, Canada, and sometimes beyond.
This year for the first time, I’ve begun to wonder about the nutrients lost in that trek, and how it will affect me. I will miss getting my feet dirty in the garden and harvesting my own fresh food. Will my body miss the immediate delivery of vitamins?
My solution is to “Go Green” inside the house and continue growing things…but not an herb garden or even a lettuce box, which would surely be more trouble than my brown thumb would produce in results.
I’m talking about just growing seeds.
No dirt. No watering and wondering how often to pluck the leaves for optimal growth. No dismay as the vibrant green plants inevitably wilt in my care.
No, I’m taking the easy route, and I’ll show you everything.
The Magic of Sprouts
Did you know sailors who crossed the Atlantic centuries ago used to sprout lentils and other seeds to avoid scurvy, the Vitamin C deficiency that became common on long voyages without access to fresh food? The act of sprouting releases new vitamins and nutrients in seeds, one of which is Vitamin C (which really isn’t all that natural or available in your winter glass of orange juice).
That’s not the only health benefit of sprouting – it even cuts the carbs, calories, and glycemic index in legumes and grains and makes them much more easily digestible. Sprouts allowed to get tiny leaves also capture chlorophyll from the sun, which has its own list of health benefits, best when fresh.
You can easily capture that nutrient-unlocking process in your own kitchen, on the cheap.
What You Need
You can buy a “sprouting kit” for about $10 at a health food store, or you can “go green” in another way and find something to reuse for the project.
I use various produce bags that used to hold onions, garlic, citrus, and other items in the produce department, to cover a regular mason jar. It makes a very respectable DIY sprouting kit, and I’m off to the races for under a dollar (less if you can find secondhand mason jars; watch estate sales).
- Mason jar of any size (pint for sprouting seeds and quart for legumes and grains)
- The ring that comes with the jar
- Appropriate sized “netting” like onion, garlic or citrus bags (For tiny sprouting seeds, you need to keep your eyes open for a very tight-weave bag, or find some tulle or similar at a fabric store or better yet, from a no-longer-needed wedding decoration or tutu that is falling apart.)
- Seeds purchased “for sprouting” or lentils, dry beans, raw sunflower seeds, or whole grains like rice, spelt, barley, or quinoa
How to Sprout in Your Own Kitchen
Trust me, as long as you’re in your kitchen at breakfast and dinner (or before bed somehow), even the brownest thumb can successfully sprout food.
1. Measure your seeds/legumes/grains. About a tablespoon of sprouting seeds is good for one batch; any more and it can be hard to use them up in time. A half cup of lentils is a good starting point for a quart jar, and if you’re sprouting other legumes or grains that you will cook, measure what you’ll need for the recipe (or perhaps a bit more and freeze the extras after cooking).
2. Rinse your seeds, whole grains or legumes.
3. Wash the repurposed netting well with hot soapy water.
4. Cover the seeds with fresh water, room temperature, right in the jar you’ll use for sprouting. Use at least double the water since the seeds and especially legumes will expand a lot. Some say to keep them out of the light at this point and for the first few days of sprouting, but I’ve never had a problem with them on the counter. Your call.
5. Secure your “netting” over the mouth of the jar with the ring.
6. Allow to sit about 6 hours for sprouting seeds and 12 hours for legumes and whole grains.
7. Drain and rinse. You can leave the netting and ring right on there and the seeds/legumes will stay inside while water passes in and out.
Note: For more than a cup of whole grains or legumes, it may be easier to let them sit and sprout in a colander with a plate underneath.
8. Prop the jar on an angle partly upside down in a bowl.
9. Twice a day, rinse two times and drain. I find it easiest to remember at breakfast and dinner cleanup. I leave the sprouts near the sink so I see them.
Note: warmer temperatures will cause faster sprouting. Watch for mold, which is NOT the white hairy-ness that you’ll see on sprouts. That’s just tiny capillary roots.
10. If you have put the sprouts in a cupboard to block the light (don’t forget them in there!), be sure to bring them out after 2-3 days so the sunlight can form chlorophyll in the baby leaves.
When to stop:
- For whole grains, you probably want just a little tail. More on that here.
- For lentils and legumes, a half inch (up to maybe an inch) is great. Taste the lentils and see if they’re easy to eat and taste good.
- For sprouting seeds, wait until you see some green leaves and taste test them.
You can immerse the finished seeds in water and swish around to get all the hulls off, but I usually skip that step, for better or for worse. 😉
Store your sprouts that you will eat raw (seeds, lentils) in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. You can leave them right in the jar you sprouted in as long as they’re well drained of water.
For dry beans and whole grains, you can cook them just about like you normally would for a rice dish or big pot of beans (you might need to adjust the amount of water for rice; more details here).
Alternately, you can dehydrate the whole grains and grind them into flour, and dehydrate the sunflower seeds and use them on salads, in granola, or in trail mix. You should keep anything you sprout cool, even after dehydrating, because some of the plant’s defenses against decay and rancidity have been nixed in the sprouting process.
How to Use Sprouts
Now that you’ve released all that energy and nutritional power, what do you do with your fresh harvest?
- Put regular “sprouts” and sprouted lentils on top of salads or sandwiches.
- Make sprouted lentil salad (above).
- Cook lentils and add them to all sorts of things. I like to keep some, cooked, in the freezer for tacos.
- Cook and use rice and whole grains as you normally would, in stir fry, casseroles, soups, or cold salads.
- Cook the beans for any bean recipes you can find.
- More ideas here.
Now you’re equipped to be an indoor winter gardener, harvesting fresh food every few days and increasing your intake of Vitamin C for immunity. Grab your trowels…er…onion bags, and get growing!
What’s your favorite way to get fresh nutrients in the winter months? Do you sprout?
|Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.|