With a simple container garden, you can grow protein-rich and vitamin-packed salad vegetables on a kitchen shelf – or even inside a drawer.
Forget about soil for this type of gardening. All you need is a clean waterproof container, water, and seed. Then within a few days, a teaspoon of seed develops the bulk of at least a cup of coleslaw, with enzymes and vitamins at their peak because it is still alive and growing.
Lucerne, or alfalfa as the Americans call it, makes even more bulk than most of the other seeds. A teaspoonful of dry seed produces about two cups of sprouts looking rather like very finely shredded lettuce, but the flavor has a hint of fresh young raw peas.
Use it like lettuce in salads and sandwiches, or with mayonnaise as coleslaw. Grated carrot, chopped basil leaves, dill, or parsley all give pleasant variations to its flavor.
Sprouted lucerne also makes a pleasantly refreshing and satisfying snack when piled high on toast or rye wafers liberally spread with peanut butter. Or for a light, quick, sustaining dish mix up to a cup of the sprouts with a few tablespoons of cooked rice plus chopped egg or cheese.
Sprouting lucerne or salad alfalfa contains over 40 percent protein and is rich in a wide range of vitamins, it is claimed that a half cup of sprouted lucerne contains as much vitamin C as six glasses of orange juice. Its vitamin B2 content builds up tremendously after the seeds have been sprouting for four days.
Mung beans or Chinese bean sprouts are comparatively well known because of their fairly wide use in Chinese dishes but they are also excellent for salads, either mixed with or as a substitute for cabbage in coleslaw. Bean seeds are reputed to be completely sustaining but their food value increases four or five times after they have been sprouted for three days.
Under moderately warm conditions they need to be eaten within five days after sprouting otherwise they develop leaves and become stringy. However, they can be stored in the refrigerator after being boiled for a minute or two, drained, and then sealed in a plastic bag.
Fenugreek, one of the lesser-known sprouting seeds, is becoming more popular because of its pleasant mild curry taste soon after sprouting. This disappears as the sprouts gain size but they are still a welcome addition to salads or various cooked dishes and are reputed to be good for gastric disorders, including ulcers.
From dry fenugreek seed to edible sprouts takes only three to four days. Although the sprouts are larger than those of lucerne they also make a palatable and attractive topping tor biscuits or toast with peanut butter, creamed cheese, or other slightly savory spreads.
Lentils are one of the earliest recorded sources of food. Biblical history tells us that Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a porridge-like dish of lentils. Lentil soup apparently was well known for its sustaining powers, but lentils become still more nutritious and also more appetizing when sprouted. They can be pre-sprouted for soups, and when eaten raw have a slightly sweet, pleasantly fresh nutty flavor.
Oriental red beans
Oriental red beans are also available in the “seeds for sprouting range.”‘ These have been valued for centuries as a high source of protein in China, Korea, and Japan. In some parts of the Orient, it is still customary for people to carry a few of these beans in the pocket to be nibbled when sustenance is needed, but they are far more palatable and nutritious after being sprouted for three to five days.
Mixed salad seed is available for sprouting. This contains all the seeds so far mentioned and gives a pleasant flavor combination with a good balance of nutrients. However, it is as well to try the various components separately, then later you can make your own mixtures for sprouting according to your particular preference.
Beans and peas
Beans and peas sold for growing should not be used as sprouts or for cooking unless you are sure they have not been treated with insecticides or fungicides, which is often the case when stocks are intended only for sowing.
Growing your own sprouts is very easy. There are several ways to go about it. With smaller seeds, such as lucerne, the easiest method is to use a large jam jar covered with a piece of muslin or netting held in place with a rubber band.
Two teaspoons of lucerne seed would just about fill a 750ml jar with sprouts, but the same jar could take at least four teaspoons of mung beans. After adding the seeds replace the muslin, nearly fill the jar with water, shake it vigorously then drain off the water; then give a second washing. Repeat the process each morning and night until the sprouts are ready to use, which may take three to seven days depending on the type of seed and the temperature.
Sometimes a harvest of lucerne seed contains up to about 10 percent hard seeds which nature designed to germinate months later than the majority so that the entire crop will not be wiped out by drought following a chance shower. However, these hard seeds are not a problem as they normally gather in the lowest corner of the jar.
Another method of sprouting that works well with mung beans, lentils, etc. is to wash the seed by vigorously running water into a basin and pouring it off several times, or by running water through the seed in a gravy strainer. Then soak it in water overnight. Rinse again, then spread the seed, half-covered with water in a plastic ice-cream container or a tray. Seal with the airtight lid or by enclosing in a plastic bag. Check after three or four days and harvest the sprouts when they are 3-4cm long.
Before using squeeze off the seed coats that have not been removed by the washing. As germination begins the seed coat loosens or is cast off; it usually floats free, so can be carefully poured off or lifted off after a final wash.
Mustard and cress
Mustard and cress also come into the category of quick-maturing sprouts or seedlings that can be raised in relatively small containers indoors or outside in the garden.
These seeds can be sprouted like the others already suggested, but usually, it is the green foliage that is used, so they are sown in containers of soil. They need good light but not necessarily direct sunlight. In fact, the plants are more succulent when grown in partly shaded positions.
A unit-dwelling family I know enjoy their fresh home-grown cress with either grills or salads almost every day. Their cress garden consists of about a dozen seedling punnets kept on a large and mostly shaded window ledge. Four or five punnets are sown each fortnight to supply a continuity of cress.
Seeds of both mustard and cress take about 10 days to come up, and in another week or two are large enough to use. Just clip off the plants at soil level, harvesting as much as needed.
The seed is sown comparatively thickly, using about a teaspoonful for six punnets or a standard wooden seedling tray. Just press the seed into the damp surface soil and keep it moist. You can speed germination and avoid the need for frequent watering by enclosing several punnets in a plastic bag, but keep them out of direct sunlight for the temperature would be too high for good results.