No outdoor space? No green thumb? Not much sunshine? No problem.
You can still easily grow your own bean sprouts. The process feels more like prepping food than actual gardening, which I think is key to not screwing it up either. All you need are beans, a jar, some cheesecloth, a rubber band, and water.
I've been happily growing alfalfa sprouts this way for a while now. A batch of sprouts takes just a few days and little maintenance. And what a reward to be able to eat your own harvest. Alfalfa is a legume just like lentils, chickpeas, and mung beans—they can all be sprouted with the same grow-in-the-jar method.
You may be picturing alfalfa sprouts and mung beans sprouts in your local Chinese take-out. These looked more bean than sprout; I was a little wary. How palatable (and digestible) could they be? My sprouted lentil actually had a pleasant crunch and fresh, slight sweetness. It was a little like biting into a fresh, raw cob of summer corn.
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The sprouting process releases dormant enzymes that make the beans more easily digestible and in some cases, even more nutritious. The sprouts that are easiest to grow are also commonly eaten raw: mung beans, alfalfa, lentils, chickpeas, and adzuki beans. See the slideshow for my growing tips.
Other beans such as fava, kidney, black, navy, and pinto beans—typically the larger beans—can also be sprouted with this method but are generally considered difficult to digest and potentially toxic in their raw form. They cook much faster than their unsprouted counterparts and are still more digestible. You can also sprout nuts, grains, and other seeds, but we won't get into all that here.
As with many raw or not fully cooked foods, there have been some cases of food-borne illnesses from eating contaminated sprouts and a lot of subsequent debate over the safety. Some people feel it's not safe to eat any raw sprouts, especially for those with a compromised immune system.
Before growing sprouts, you should decide for yourself how comfortable you are with the potential risks, and whether you'd prefer raw or cooked sprouts. Either way, take a look at the slideshow for the full demonstration on how to grow them.
Once your sprouts are all grown, they make crunchy, nutritious additions on sandwiches, soups, salads, and tossed into stir-fries.
Whole raw chickpea sprouts aren't really my thing, but they do make a wicked hummus. Get the recipe here »
If you prefer cooked sprouts, the alfalfa won't take the heat well, but the other sprouts in the slideshow are delicious when cooked. Mung bean sprouts can be added to a dish in the final few minutes of cooking. Sprouted lentils are fully cooked after four or five minutes of steaming. Sprouted chickpeas and adzuki beans need around 15 minutes of cooking.
About the author: Kumiko writes the blog Recipe Interrupted. She believes that having a few cooking techniques under your belt can help make home cooking creative and easy, and is excited to share her tips with the Serious Eats community. A graduate of Brown University, the Institute of Culinary Education, and a mother of two hungry girls, Kumiko is always trying to keep her Brooklyn kitchen smelling of something good.