Issue: 2017-02-08, PHOTO: Kim Melton
Homemade pickles and fresh sprouts provide two hits of green in a January sandwich.
Some of my favourite food-related activities would be better described as passive-ities. I’m referring to the kind of work that involves setting something up, forgetting about it for some time, and then discovering one day that something delicious has happened.
Cheese, wine and sauerkraut all belong in this category, varying in the initial output of labour required. Fresh greens could also be placed in this department, especially when they sprout from vegetables stored for the winter. Some might take this as a sign that the cold storage isn't as cold as it should be, and they are probably right. However, I also take it as a gift of fresh growing greens in the dead of winter, which are rather hard to come by otherwise.
While they may be a little anemic due to lack of sunlight, the greens that grace the dusty tops of turnips, rutabagas, carrots and even beets nestled in their boxes below the floor are a welcome addition to cabbage salads, stir fries and as toppings on soups.
Turnip greens have a little mustardy bite, while carrot tops have a bitter edge that can be a lovely contrast to a sweet, rooty stew and serve to bring on the appetite.
When the root cellar is working at optimum, and no greens are to be seen below decks, I resort to sprouting in jars.
I was reminded of the importance of seedling density as I wandered away from my usual mung beans and lentils into tiny seed territory recently.
While I do enjoy the little sprouts – alfalfas and mustards and the like – I normally can't be bothered when I am quite satisfied with what I see as the less fussy larger pulses. They don't dry out as quickly for one thing, even with a touch of neglect. A friend gave me some bags of “sprouting seeds” (yes it is a gimmick, feel free to use your leftover garden seeds though the germination rate does go down over time) and I poured what turned out to be a ridiculously small quantity into a mason jar. A few days later I was rewarded with a paltry amount of little sprouts, enough to grace half a sandwich, and half of those had suffered severe desiccation.
Round two. I poured what I thought would be a more reasonable quantity into a mason jar and set to soak. Drain, rinse, soak according to the prescribed daily ritual and voilà: a root mass so thick I needed pliers to pry out a small portion.
As Goldilocks discovered, somewhere in between there is something that is just right.
Now that I have re-educated myself, I have begun using up old seeds from the gardening bin as I read over the new catalogues and prepare for that delightful yearly task that is the seed order. It’s a fun way of using up the remnants of packets that I haven’t been able to throw away, but that really, I am not going to plant.
Herbs take longer to sprout than the mustards, but add a lovely aspect of new flavour, and overall they just all taste so fresh – there isn’t really another way to describe them.
Remember to soak seeds in enough warm water to completely cover seeds until they are all swollen, 12-24 hours depending on seed size.
Drain and invert in a bowl (you are making a mini-greenhouse: the seeds need to stay moist but not submerged)
Allow seeds to sprout in a warm place, light is not a factor at this point. Normally this would happen underground!
A general rule of thumb is that sprouts are ready to eat when the tail (root) is twice as long as the size of the seed itself. At this point sprouts can be refrigerated for up to a week, though it is best to make small amounts and keep providing yourself with fresh ones.
Basic Sprouting Kit
A 1 litre or 500ml mason jar, depending on your volume requirements
A piece of cheesecloth or my personal favourite, mesh garlic or ginger bag
A sturdy elastic to hold the mesh over the mouth of the jar
A bowl in which the jar can sit upside down at an angle
A warm place