In the days following the terrorist attack, it was natural for me to turn to the kitchen. Although food was the last thing on my mind, cooking is comforting and so I carried on while listening to the news.
Though I agree with New York Mayor Rudolf Guliani that we should go out and eat at restaurants to help the economy, at this time I prefer to stay home and have soothing comfort food with family and friends and talk about current events.
I organized a potluck in my neighborhood the following day. My friends and neighbors thought it was a great idea to be together at the communal table. Many brought candles, American flags on toothpicks as souvenirs, along with nourishing dishes. We had eggplant casserole, squash stuffed ravioli, vegetable stew in a clay pot, mixed sprouts curry, Middle Eastern lavosh breads, leafy green salad, cream cheese cookies, peach cobbler and strawberry ice cream.
Legumes make the best comfort food. Their meaty, earthy flavor is a natural combined and cooked with potatoes and tomatoes. Sprouts offer an attractive alternative to dry legumes and form an important part of the diet. At a time like these, I prefer something not too challenging but nourishing and healing. Growing your own sprouts is like having a “miniature” garden in the kitchen. Rain or shine you get a crop within two to four days. They are transformed into edible form to create distinctive flavor, texture, and color. Their starches turn to sugar making them easily digestible and nutritive, with a crisp texture and fresh nutty taste.
Mung bean, alfalfa, onion and radish are most common and are easily available in the supermarkets. It is fairly easy and economical to make sprouts at home too. Chick peas, mung beans, lentils, and whole wheat berries are particularly suited for sprouting.
To grow your own sprouts, pick clean dried beans. Discard broken or unhealthy looking ones. Wash in several changes of water and add enough water to cover by at least 2 inches and soak for about 24 hours.
Drain and rinse them.
Transfer into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Cover loosely with a damp muslin or cheesecloth. Place in a warm dark place in the pantry. If the place is cooler it will take a little longer to sprout.
Keep the beans moist by sprinkling some water on the cheesecloth, one to two times per day especially in warm weather. The beans will start to sprout within two to three days. Sprouts are mature when the tails are 1/3 to ½ inch long. If you need longer sprouts keep for one more day. Discard any beans that have not sprouted. Sprouts taste best and have most nutrients if you use them soon after they reach mature size. You may store sprouts in a covered container up to a week in the refrigerator.
Bland and crisp, sprouts can be used raw or steam cooked. Try them in salads and vegetables. You can also stir them into soups for extra crunch or sprinkle them over pilafs as garnish. Once you understand their quality you can use them in the foods as freely as you use parsley.
SPROUT GROWING CHART
½ cup Bean Growing time Harvest size Yield Taste
mung beans 3 to 5 days 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches 3 to 4 cups pleasant, crunchy
brown lentils 2 to 4 days 1/2 to 3/4 inch 3 cups fresh taste, slightly starchy when raw
chick peas 3 to 5 days 1/3 to 1/2 inch 1-1/2 cups distinctive taste
Mixed Sprouts Curry
Here you can use a combination of homemade bean sprouts. For a quick fix, use the store-bought packaged mixed sprouts. Serve with toasted baguettes or pita bread.
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
6 whole cloves, ground
1 cup coarsely chopped tomato
2 tablespoon flaked coconut, optional
2 cups water
1/3 teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup mixed sprouts
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
Thinly sliced scallion for garnish
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cloves. Stir and fry about 5 minutes until the edges of the onion start to brown. Stir in the tomato and coconut. Cook about 6 minutes until the tomato is soft. Add ½ cup water to the tomato-onion mixture and puree in a blender or food processor. Set aside.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. Add the mustard seeds.
When the seeds sizzle and splutter, stir in the sprouts and potato. Cook 2 minutes longer, stirring occasionally.
Add the cayenne, salt, paprika, tomato-onion puree, and the remaining water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heated serving dish and serve garnished with scallions. Makes a hearty 4 servings.