The long-living Hunzas of the Himalayas ate them. So did the ancient Chinese. And now food blogs and foodie chat rooms can’t stop talking about them.

Sprouts are as fresh as food can get. Even as you add them to salads, dunk them in soups or crunch them in wholewheat sandwiches, they continue to burst—literally—with nutrition and vitamin content. Because of the chemical changes that take place in them during sprouting, they’re always easier to digest than the original grain, legume or nut. And then there’s the extra stuff—the vitamin C (needed for the immune system) that comes with the germination process, as well as the increase in levels of other vitamins such as vitamin A (for healthy skin, respiratory health and proper vision), vitamin B (for proper metabolism and nervous system functioning) and vitamin K (that helps blood coagulate).

Here are a few ways in which you can include sprouts in your meal plans.

MONDAY

‘Moong’ (gram)

Sprouting ease: Sprouts in a day

Taste: Crunchy and crisp, slightly sweet

Quick ways to eat it: Sprinkle it on soups as a garnishing—it gives the soup both texture and a crunch—or add to a multigrain/wholewheat sandwich with coriander chutney. Have them with your salad

Health-wise: High in protein with calcium, iron, phosphorus and small amounts of vitamin B complex

Calories per serving: 50 kCal for 30g

STIR-FRY SPROUTS

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

50g green gram sprouts

100g broccoli

50g carrots, finely chopped

100g cabbage, thinly shredded

5 spring onions, slit circular. Keep thinly chopped stalks aside

2 cloves garlic

1 red chilli

3 tsp Hoisin sauce or stir-fry sauce

Method

Heat the oil on high heat and add the garlic and chilli. Add the broccoli, followed by cabbage, carrots and onions. Sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the Hoisin or stir-fry sauce. Then add the stalks of spring onions and gram sprouts. Serve hot.

TUESDAY

Black chickpea sprouts

Sprouting ease: Needs 8-10 hours of soaking and two days to sprout

Taste: Very crunchy and nutty flavour

Quick ways to eat it: In salad or sprinkled on rice ‘pulaos’

Health-wise: Rich in protein, fibre and vitamin A

Calories per serving: 50 kCal for 30g

SPROUT CHAAT

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

60g green gram sprouts

30g black chickpea sprouts

1 medium-size onion, chopped

1/4 tsp ginger, chopped (optional)

1/4 tsp green chillies, chopped (optional)

2 medium potatoes, boiled and chopped

2 tsp tamarind (‘imli’) ‘chutney’

1 tsp coriander chutney

1/2 tsp roasted ‘jeera’ (cumin) powder

1/2 tsp rock salt

Roasted ‘sev’ (vermicelli) for garnish

Method

Mix all the ingredients together, varying the proportions depending on individual taste. Garnish with the roasted vermicelli.

WEDNESDAY

Fenugreek sprouts

Sprouting ease: The seeds need to be soaked overnight. Takes two-three days to sprout

Taste: A distinctive bittersweet flavour

Quick ways to eat it: Grown to the two-leaf stage (sprout for four-five days till leaves come out), it makes a great salad with olive oil and vinegar. Makes a tart pickle—seasoned with green chilli, turmeric, ‘hing’ (asafoetida) and lime juice (keeps only for a few days)

Health-wise: Full of the medicinal goodness of ‘methi’ (fenugreek), greatfor digestion, diabetes and clearing the sinuses

Calories per serving: 25 kCal for a 2 tbsp serving (15g)

METHI SPROUT SOUP

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

50g ‘methi’ sprouts

5 tomatoes, chopped

3 dried red chillies

A pinch of asafoetida

A pinch of pepper powder

400ml water

1/2 tsp rock salt

Method

Heat the oil and fry the chillies and asafoetida. Add the chopped tomatoes, sauté for 5-7 minutes on low heat and then add the water. After the mix comes to a boil, add the sprouts. Take off heat immediately so that the sprouts retain their crunch. Add salt and pepper and serve piping hot.

THURSDAY

‘Rai’ sprouts (mustard seeds)

Sprouting ease: Needs to be soaked overnight and then left to sprout. Takes three-four days to explode into a colourful red mass, with hints of yellow and a profusion of delicate white shoots

Taste: Crunchy and flavourful, with a strong mustard tang

Quick ways to eat it: Great as seasoning for curries; as a topping for salads, or for seasoning in dishes such as ‘bisibele bhath’ or curd rice

Health-wise: Excellent in phosphorous, vitamin A and calcium

Calories per serving: 40 kCal for a 15g serving (2 tbsp)

CURD RICE WITH MUSTARD SPROUTS

Serves 1

Ingredients

15g mustard seed sprouts

1 cup boiled rice

1 cup yogurt (curd)

A pinch of asafoetida

6-7 tender curry leaves

1/2 tsp ginger, finely chopped

1 green chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp coriander, chopped

1 tsp rock salt

1 tsp ‘ghee’

Method

Heat the ‘ghee’. Add the curry leaves, and asafoetida. After a couple of minutes, add the rice. To the mixture, add the chopped green chilli, ginger and coriander. Fold in rice and then add the mustard sprouts. Take off the heat, add the yogurt and rock salt.

FRIDAY

Wheat sprouts

Sprouting ease: Takes three-four days to sprout

Taste: Bland, and a little chewy

Quick ways to eat it: Sprinkle on oatmeal/‘daliya’ porridge. Grind into powder and mix with flour for ‘chapatis’

Health-wise: Excellent source of phosphorous, iron, folic acid and vitamins A, B and E

Calories per serving: 50 kCal for 30g

WHEAT SPROUT SALAD

Serves 2

Ingredients

60g wheat sprouts

1 small-size onion, chopped

1/2 small cucumber, finely chopped

Juice of 2 lemons

1/2tsp sugar

1 tsp Thai sweet chilli sauce

A pinch of rock salt

Method

Steam the wheat sprouts for 10-12 minutes. While hot, add lemon juice, salt, Thai sauce, sugar, chopped onion and cucumber. Set aside for a few hours. Serve.

SATURDAY

‘Ragi’ sprouts (‘nachni’/finger millet)

Sprouting ease: Sprouts in one-two days

Taste: Tasteless and chewy

Quick ways to eat it: Not many. The quickest is the ‘ragi’ sprout ‘dosa’ (recipe below). ‘Ragi’, like ‘jowar’ (sorghum) and ‘bajra’ (pearl millet), is usually sprouted and dry- roasted in an oven or on a ‘tava’ (griddle), and then ground into powder. This is great for cooking with milk for porridge, for mixing with flour or using in soups.

Health-wise: Excellent in calcium and fibre

Calories per serving: 1 cup or 30g is 50 kCal

RAGI SPROUT DOSA

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 cup ‘dosa’ rice

1/2 cup ‘urad dal’

1 cup ‘ragi’ sprouts

1 tsp ‘methi’ seeds

Method

Soak ‘urad dal’, ‘ragi’ sprouts and ‘dosa’ rice with ‘methi’ seeds for 5-6 hours, or overnight. Grind all three separately. Then mix the three and let the mixture ferment for 4-5 hours. Heat a ‘tava’, and when it’s very hot, spread a ladleful of batter in concentric circles to make a ‘dosa’. Spread it thin if you want it crispy, else leave a little thick. Reduce the heat. Spread 1 tsp of oil/‘ghee’ on the ‘dosa’ to crispen it and prevent it from sticking. When the bottom surface of the ‘dosa’ is golden, reddish-brown, turn it over for a couple of minutes. Remove from the fire and serve hot with ‘sambhar’.

SOME MYTHSABOUT SPROUTS

Sprouts are tough to grow

Reality: You need nothing more than basic kitchen equipment. Soak the grain/legume overnight, strain and then hang in a clean muslin cloth or transfer into a sieve or colander with a cover. Or you could go hi-tech and invest in a “sprout farm", with legumes, nuts and grains sprouting in parallel tiers.

Sprouts cause flatulence

Reality: Soaking sprouts in water actually reduces the wind-producing substances in legumes.

Sprouts are heavy to digest

Reality: They are easier to digest than the original grain/legume. “Sprouts are ready cash," says nutritionist Anju Venkat of The Health Awareness Centre, Mumbai. “When you eat complex proteins or carbohydrates you’re giving your body the equivalent of post-dated cheques. But with sprouts, proteins have been broken down into simple amino acids, and stored starch is broken into simple sugar," says Dr Venkat.

Sprouts can lead to salmonella poisoning

Reality: If sprouted properly (not left in water for over 10 hours but soaked for 6-8 hours in clean water and then drained and left to sprout), there can be no salmonella poisoning, says dietitian Namrata Singh.

Sprouts have substantial calories

Reality: Sprouts have less calories than the original legumes. “Because they are filling, people mistakenly believe they must have a lot of calories. But the feeling of fullness from sprouts comes from their fibre content and their protein," says Dr Singh. A serving (50g) of ‘moong’ sprouts, for instance, can be as little as 50 calories.

Sources: Namrata Singh, consulting dietitian at Mumbai’s The Club, and Dr Anju Venkat of The Health Awareness Centre, Mumbai.

THE SPROUT CHART

Legumes: ‘Moong’ (gram), whole ‘masur’ (red lentil), ‘chowli’ (black-eye pea), ‘chana’ (chickpea), ‘kala chana’ ( black chickpea), ‘matki’ (moth bean).

Nuts and seeds: Alfalfa seeds, sesame (‘til’) seeds, fenugreek (‘methi’) seeds, coriander (‘dhaniya’) seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, muskmelon seeds and mustard (‘rai’) seeds.

Grains: Wheat, ‘jowar’, ‘ragi’, ‘bajra’

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