Would you like to garden, but you live in a highrise apartment without a balcony, or your climate is so cold you despair of getting anything ripe? Well, if you never buy a fresh vegetable again, you can have fresh vegetables in every meal, at an annual cost of $20 – $30. I'm serious.
When Janie and I were working up a budget, it occurred to me I had a wealth of things in the cupboards that I bought but hadn't really used. So, I've been intentionally buying smaller batches of groceries – heavy on protein – and letting necessity round out dinner with all that other stuff – black glutinous rice, green lentils, bean threads, cream of wheat, oat groats, canned sweet potatoes, canned squash, canned collards, texturized vegetable protein.
Okay, the last one is still sitting in the bag I bought it in, right where I set it the day I brought it home. Everything else is decanted into various old mason jars and put on display, but these little bits of dried tofu will have to wait in line. I've rediscovered sprouts.
I was looking at this big jar of lentils, wondering what I'd cook to use them all up, and on a whim I grabbed an old jar, put in a quarter cup of seeds, rinsed it, drained it, and put it up on the shelf.
I didn't remember how often you're supposed to rinse them, but I keep them in a very obvious place so they get rinsed twice a day. I'm told rinsing them less than that raises the possibility of mold, and semi-dried-out sprouts are rather nasty anyway. I didn't remember whether the jar should be sealed or open. I compromised on the sealed/open issue by putting the top against the wall with just a crack to breathe. I grow them on a shelf as shown above.
You can do this.
Before the week was out, I had a honkin' ol' bowl of lentil sprouts! I noticed I also had plenty of mung beans, the same beans they use to grow the sprouts you buy in the store.
There's not much more to say about technique, so I'll say what you can do with sprouts. I like them in salads. (See note at the end of this post, as some advocate only using sprouts in dishes that are cooked).
I like them in stir frys.
But really, they're just vegetables. They're good in soup or meatloaf, fried up in egg rolls, rolled up fresh in spring rolls. All this from beans you can store in a little jar and mix with water and air any time of the year to make instant vegetables.
You are not limited to lentils or mung beans. Just stop by your local food co-op and look at the different things they sprout (like chick peas). While there, ask knowelgeable staff about proper technique to reduce contamination by bacteria. If there isn't a co-op nearby, I'm sure you can google "making sprouts" or "sprouting beans" and you'll find more information than you ever wanted to know.
While we're on the topic of too much information, I did a little research.
The Nutrition Almanac gives information for both lentil sprouts and mung bean sprouts, but they have no way of telling you how long they sprouted them. This matters because the less you sprout them, the higher the protein content, but here goes.
Every quantity below assumes you're measuring one cupful of vegetables.
In each of the groups below, lentil sprouts come first, mung sprouts second, and since I can't think of anything more nutritious than parsley, it comes in third (for comparison sake). Keep in mind that eating a cup of sprouts is a breeze; eating a cup of minced fresh parsley is a bit more of a challenge.
Grams total – 77 / 104 / 60
Calories – 81 / 32 / 26 gm
Protein – 6.9 / 3 / 2.2 gm
Carbohydrates – 17 / 6 / 5.1 gm
Fiber – 2.35 / .84 / .9 gm
B6 – .146 / .092 / .07 mg
C – 12.7 / 17 / 103 mg (parsley rocks here, so this reflects very well on the others)
A – 35 / 22 / 5,100 mg
B1 – .176 / .088 / .07 mg
Iron – 2.47 / .94 / 3.7 mg
Magnesium – 28 / 22 / 40 mg
Manganese – .39 / .19 / .75 mg
Yes, sprouts have protein – BUT – if you want to use them as a protein source there's a rule of thumb that you need to know: pair your vegetable proteins. The different types of vegetable protein are corn, grains, legumes (beans), nuts – and maybe seeds, (though I've always had trouble distinguishing seeds from grains. Pair together any of those two types of vegetable protein in a dish, and it adds up to a reasonably good protein for human consumption. If you eat just one kind, your body will mainly treat it as carbohydrates and will be more likely to turn it into fat.
IMPORTANT SAFETY DISCLAIMER:
Farmer Slim has added a very useful comment to this post, and I have edited my post accordingly. Because it is impossible to hide from nature, the agriculture department has rules that concede that there will be a certain amount of contamination in all agricultural products (not to mention a trend in recent history of the government ignoring all safety laws in the interest of "freedom"). For this reason, it is especially important for you to inspect your beans and seeds before sprouting. Just as you should always lay them out on a counter and look through them carefully for rocks, also find and discard anything that looks like a rodent dropping. If you do find some of these, I recommend you change the source you get your seeds from, or as Farmer Slim recommends, go only with a source that specifically identifies their product as suitable for sprouting.
Now, here is another clarification. I grew up in the mountains and as a child, young adult and the person I now am, I always drank from all the streams, with little regard as to what was grazing or – please don't be alarmed – lying dead in the water upstream. Because of this, I have the luxury of considering germs nature's pharmaceuticals. Because I've been exposed to (and survived infection by) a few rather nasty illnesses, I now have a very resilient immune system, much as nature intended. I cannot remember the last time I was sick. If on the other hand you have lived in an environment that has always been scrubbed clean, or if you get colds or the flu on a regular basis, you should read Farmer Slim's comment below and heed it.