Lately I’ve been really excited about growing sprouts. Spring has been mercilessly taunting the northeastern U.S. for the last couple of months, and things have been looking really bleak. To keep from losing my mind, I’ve taken to “eating optimistically,” which involves eating piles of sprouts and all the raw veggies I can get my hands on. Nothing says “spring” like bringing lentils out of dormancy en masse, right?
So a couple of years ago, I discovered a sprouting jar buried deep in the bowels of my parents’ basement. This was a bizarre find, to say the least, because if you’ve ever met my parents, you know that they definitely never went through any kind of crunchy hippie phase. Case in point: the jar was stored next to a doughnut dropper, a utensil which much more accurately reflects my parents’ culinary roots.
Self-sufficiency obsessive that I am, I naturally decided I would get into growing sprouts … despite the fact that I’d never really eaten them regularly. Everybody knows sprouts are tiny nutritional powerhouses, but I’ve always been loath to buy them because they’re expensive and tend to go bad really quickly. As it turns out, growing your own sprouts is both easy and cheap, and I’ve become a total convert.
Spring is the perfect time to try your hand at growing sprouts. They’re more prone to spoilage during the height of hot, humid summer, and they take longer to grow when the temperature’s low.
You can sprout just about any variety of seed, bean, or grain. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even make your own sprout mixes! You’ll find a ton of ideas about what to soak as well as an extensive breakdown of soaking and harvesting times and nutritional profiles here. You can purchase seeds and beans intended specifically for sprouting, but I’ve had lots of luck sprouting plain old organic bulk dry beans. Keep in mind that you won’t have any luck sprouting really old beans and seeds, or anything that’s been cooked, toasted, or otherwise treated. Personally, I recommend starting out with something cheap and small in size, like the lowly brown lentil.
You can buy all manner of gadgetry for growing your own sprouts online, but all you really need is a mason jar, a piece of cheesecloth or mesh, and a couple of minutes every day.
- 1 qt. mason jar with lid
- a square of cheesecloth and a fine mesh sieve (for rinsing) OR mesh screen cut to the size of your lid
- ¼ c dry beans, seeds, or grains of your choice, picked over and rinsed well
- Carefully boil your mason jar to sterilize it. Dry fully before using.
- Add ¼ cup dry beans. (You can use more, but it's good to start small your first time to ensure your sprouts have enough space to grow and get good air flow.)
- Fill mason jar with water, making sure beans are completely covered.
- Soak for 12 hours.
- Drain water completely.
- Rinse sprouts and drain thoroughly, until water runs completely clear.
- Stretch your cheesecloth tightly across the mouth of the jar (or lay the screen across it) and tighten down with the ring portion of the lid.
- Find an out-of-the-way place for your sprouts to grow undisturbed. Pick a spot where your jar won't be jostled or get any sun. Inside a cabinet is a bad idea, because sprouts need good air flow. A corner of the counter or a shelf out of direct sunlight should be fine.
- Lay your jar on its side, rigging something up so the bottom of your jar is raised and the screen is tilted downward, encouraging any excess liquid to drain out through the openings in the screen or cheesecloth. I recommend using a shallow, heavy bowl; you can rest the bottom of the jar on the rim, and any excess liquid will drain into the bowl itself for easy clean-up.
- If your beans are blocking the entire screen, shake the jar to spread them out; again, they'll need good air flow.
- Let beans rest, undisturbed.
- Every 12 hours, rinse beans until water runs clear and drain fully, returning jar to its tilted position (and rinsing your bowl, if using) each time. I rinse my sprouts right before I leave for work and rinse them again when I get home at night, about 12 hours later.
- Continue rinsing and draining every 12 hours until your sprouts have grown as big as you'd like. You can eat them after a day or two, or keep growing them until they have long tails (up to a week). I recommend smelling and tasting your crop after each rinse. If you come across any funky smells, or your sprouts are soft instead of crunchy, you're better off chucking them and starting over with a fresh batch of beans than messing with potentially dangerous bacteria.
- That's it! Once your sprouts are the size you want them, transfer them to a covered jar and store them in the fridge for up to two weeks. Toss your sprouts on sandwiches, sandwiches, or add them to any cooked dish as a fresh and crunchy garnish. Happy sprouting!