Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lentil Sprouts

I know what you're thinking:  lentil sprouts and granola in one week?  Foodie, have you gone hippie-mad?  It's possible.  But mostly I've just been making a concerted effort to eat healthfully and undo some of the damage I did to myself (and the Foodie family) during the last six weeks of the semester.  I don't think I've ever lived through a busier time at work, and the Foodie family paid the price--in frozen dinners, fast food, and many other forms of quick-but-not-nutritious eating.  Sometimes you just have to acknowledge your helplessness in the face of the value meal.

But when I finally had time to start thinking about some of my healthier favorites, I remembered a delicious bunch of lentil spouts I'd received in my Greenling box a few years ago.  I subscribed to Greenling's organic produce delivery service for quite awhile, until San Antonio got more serious about organizing farmer's markets and providing residents with access to local growers--then it no longer seemed necessary.  Still, I miss being presented with a box of sometimes-mysterious produce on a regular basis.  Lentil sprouts were one of those strange-looking things I'd never tasted before they appeared in my Greenling box.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me until very recently that I could try sprouting my own lentils at home.  Perhaps I thought this process would require some sort of sprouting enzyme that I didn't have on hand.  Perhaps I thought the sprouting had to happen during the growing process.  Whatever I thought, a little research made it clear that sprouting lentils was a very easy process.  It requires
  1. some dried lentils (the kind you can buy from the grocery store--any kind will do)
  2. a canning jar or a tall, narrow drinking glass
  3. water
That's it.   The sprouting process is equally simple.
  1. Pour 1/2 cup of dry lentils and 2 cups of water into the jar or glass.
  2. Cover the top with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, a thin washcloth, or some other breathable material.  (I used a canning jar, so I just removed the metal plate from the lid, stretched half of a coffee filter over the opening, and secured it with the screw-on ring.  You can easily do the same with a coffee filter and rubber band, if you don't have a two-part lid.)
  3. Let the lentils soak in the water for 12 hours, then drain off the water and rinse the lentils in a colander.  Put them back in the jar, wet but drained, and leave them alone for 12 more hours.  Keep them out of direct sunlight.
  4. After 12 hours, rinse the lentils again.  Repeat this as many times as necessary, until your lentils have sprouts that are 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch long.   (You'll see from the picture above that I let mine grow a little longer, which is also fine, unless you're in a hurry to eat your sprouts.)  Your sprouts will be ready to eat in 2 to 3 days.
Why take the time to sprout lentils?  First of all, the sprouting process makes many nutrients more readily available to the body, so lentils (which are already a nutritional powerhouse) become even better for you when you sprout them.  Sprouting lentils also makes them a complete protein source, like meat, by adding 2 amino acids to the 20 lentils possess in their dried form.  That means, if you're trying to reduce your meat consumptions, sprouted lentils can help you replace the nutrients you lose when you cut out animal protein.  (Plus, sprouted lentils offer more fiber than their dried counterparts. Meat, of course, gives you none.  So eating lentil sprouts is a double-whammy of goodness.)

And now you're wondering What on earth would I do with lentil sprouts?  Lots of things.  You can toss them into a salad, or put them on top of a sandwich in place of lettuce or alfalfa sprouts.  You can stir fry them with veggies (although cooking them breaks down some of the available nutrients, as it does with all vegetables.)  You can stir them into a bowl of soup to add a little crunch.  There are also many salads made with lentil sprouts as the base ingredient, and I'm sure you'll see a recipe for one or more of those on this blog over the summer.

Go on, give it a try.  What have you got to lose?  Half a cup of dry lentils, at the most.  And if nothing else, watching the lentils grow their sprouty tails makes for an interesting kitchen science experiment.

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