Thursday, July 22, 2010

Veggie Mights: DIY Sprouted Grains

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Last year, I went on a couple of dates with a delightful guy, H. We quickly discovered We Did Not Want the Same Things but had great conversation while we figured it out.

Our first date culminated in a meal at a Vietnamese restaurant where I confessed to being a vegetarian and prepared for the backlash. He smiled and one-upped me. He was a vegan.

Wow. I’d never even dated a vegetarian before; I was tickled. He continued that he once had been a voracious meat-eater until a healthier-than-thou raw foodist friend annoyed him to the brink of science.

After several weeks testing a raw diet on himself, H claimed to feel lighter, stronger, and more energetic than he’d had in years. To his disgust, his friend was right. Science doesn’t lie.

For me, denial kicked in immediately. I made the incorrect assumption that, since we were in a restaurant (of his choosing), he went back to eating cooked food full-time, but remained a vegan. That was not the case.

On a subsequent outing—to a Thai restaurant—he assured me that he continued to follow a raw food diet: most of his meals consisted of fruit and nuts; the only cooked meals he ate were out with friends. It would never work. I think I actually uttered the dreaded “What do you eat?” I’m so abashed.

The goal of most raw foodists is to consume a 75%–100% raw diet of primarily fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes for maximum health. Beating oneself up for not being strict enough is counter-intuitive to the physical and mental health benefits of the diet. I think a lot of us in the veg community can take that to heart.

Diet was not a deal-breaker with H, but this experience made me think about food in a new way: about how much I love to cook, and about how I use cooking as an expression of love. I take joy in planning and preparing a special meal or a decadent dessert for my dearest friends and family. And the more restrictive their diets, the better. I love a challenge.

So why did raw food give me such pause?

It reminded me of being an omnivore who could never imagine going veg. (That was me almost 20 years ago.) I couldn’t conceive of what H ate. An apple with peanut butter for breakfast AND lunch? Just salad for dinner? Ugh, the boredom…Sounds familiar, eh, veggies?

For No-Cook Month, I did a more little digging into the world of raw food. What I really wanted to know was how raw foodists prepare grains and beans. Some grains, like bulgur wheat, cous cous (technically, a pasta), and sometimes rice can be soaked to edibility. But what about other grains and beans?

A failed attempt to soak a batch of quinoa resulted in a fermented, stinky, and still gritty waste. To the InterWebs!

Grains and beans, it turns out, are very often sprouted. Challenge accepted.

We all know about alfalfa sprouts—the subject of every other vegetarian joke before 1995—and mung bean sprouts, which are popular in Chinese cooking. Turns out you can sprout just about anything: seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts. For fun and games, I tried quinoa and millet.

Sprouting involves soaking and allowing your subject time to expand and literally sprout. Sprouting makes the food more digestible by the body and increases the nutritional value.

Sprouts can be eaten raw, but are also often cooked or milled into flour for baking. How very versatile.

So enough wall-hugging; it’s time to dance.

How to Sprout
Adapted from The Nourishing Gourmet.

What you’ll need:
something to sprout (I used 4 oz. of quinoa)
canning-type jar, 16 oz or larger (no lid required)
rubber band

What to do:
1) Wash a glass jar well. Pour grain into jar.

2) Place cheesecloth over mouth of jar with rubber band (or ring band if you have canning jars).

3) Fill with water. If you’re sprouting quinoa, give the jar a little shake and pour out the water to rinse the seeds. Quinoa has a bitter coating that should always be rinsed away. Refill the jar with water.

4) Allow to soak over night, up to 12 hours.

5) After a good soak, drain the water, refill the jar with water, and rinse the quinoa seeds, pouring away the water again.

6) Place the jar in a shallow bowl with the mouth end down to allow the remaining water to drain. Try to sift the seeds into an even layer along the side of the jar. This allows the sprouts air, light, and space to grow.

7) Leave in a cool (but not cold) place with indirect life. A countertop or table is fine.

8) Repeat steps 5 through 7 every 6 to 8 hours until you have tiny, cute sprouts. Quinoa can take as little as 24 hours after the initial soak. Some legumes can take up to 5 days.

9) Store sprouts in the refrigerator until you are ready to use, a few days up to a week.

Pop over to one of these helpful sites for more info about grains and legumes to sprout, as well as alternative methods.

I’m not sure if the air conditioning in apartment was a factor, but there was a setback during my first trial. The a/c was off for more than 24 hours over the weekend while I was away. New York’s 95+ degree temperatures and my absence (no rinsing) resulted in two jars of rancid grain.

For take two, I was diligent with the rinsing and used cold water. My quinoa sprouted in less than 2 days. The bounty of my efforts was 8 1/2 oz. of crunchy, fresh-tasting quinoa sprouts. They would be great on a green salad or in a variety of recipes. Millet results are pending.

Any raw food readers out there who would like to school me in their ways? (Please forgive my ignorance and Internet education.) Readers, have you sprouted anything before? Feel free share your experiences/tips in the comments. Stay tuned next week when I will Not Cook with the sprouted quinoa.


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