To celebrate the International Year of Pulses, author and UN pulse ambassador Jenny Chandler explores these nutritional powerhouses and shares her tips on how best to prepare them. This month: sprouting beans and lentils
While Chinese bean sprouts have been around in our shops for decades, many of the other varieties of sprouted legume are considered relative newcomers—star players in the realm of the super-food bloggers, but often regarded with a degree of suspicion by the rest of us.
In reality, we’ve been aware of the incredible health benefits of sprouted beans, nuts and seeds for centuries; Captain Cook grew them aboard his ship to help ward off the scurvy that took so many sailors’ lives back in the 1700s, and sprouts were fed to British soldiers on the front line during the First World War when fresh food was hard to come by.
Nowadays, many nutritionists sing the praises of raw, living food with its powers to aid digestion and up energy levels. Once sprouted, a seed has far higher levels of proteins, minerals and vitamins than in its dormant state. I have to admit, I’d never really thought about the buckets of dried legumes in the health food shop or the packets of beans stacked on the shop shelf as seeds that, given a little warmth, water and light, will burst into life.
Growing food is a fabulously uplifting business and sprouting pulses can reward those of us city dwellers who can only dream of a veg patch. There’s the added bonus that these little seeds can be enjoyed within a matter of days and will never be decimated by marauding slugs.
How to get sprouting
You can buy sprouting containers in health food shops but all you really require as a beginner is a glass jar. I use a Kilner jar because of the handy lid (you’ll understand later).
First soak your pulses in the jar in some cool water for about 12 hours. Next your seeds will need to breathe, so secure a piece of muslin/cheesecloth with an elastic band over the end of the jar (some suggest using the toe of a pop sock, but I just don’t do hosiery in my kitchen!).
Carefully drain the water out through the cloth and allow the pulses to spread out along the length of the jar. Keep the jar somewhere at room temperature away from direct sunlight. Place the jar at an angle on a tray or plate to continue draining (this is where the lid of a Kilner jar makes the perfect stand).
Now all that you need to do is, with the cloth left in place, fill the jar with cool water, give it a gentle swirl and leave to drain again at 12-hourly intervals, until your seeds have sprouted. Sprouting will take anything between two and four days. I like to allow the sprouts to grow their long white shoots to about three times the length of the seed.
How to store
Wash and drain the sprouted pulses really well before storing in a sealed container in the fridge for up to five days.
Pulses to sprout
The tiny, Old World beans such as adzuki, moth or mung beans; lentils—all work well (except red lentils, which are split and skin free); chickpeas and peas
A few tips
Rinse the sprouts well and make sure that the jar is draining properly or mould may develop and don’t over pack the jar—the seeds should lie in a layer only two or three deep along the side of the jar. Use cooking pulses not garden seeds that might have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals and avoid all the classic New World beans such as haricot, cannellini, borlotti, kidney etc, as they can contain toxins if eaten raw.
Try in a protein-packed salad, with stilton, plum and quinoa, for a seaonal dish bursting with great fibre and loaded with vitamins.