Tag Archives: Cheap food

Eco-Saturday: Grow your own sprouts

I love sprouts. They’re higher in protein and nutrients than lettuce and taste good in salads and sandwiches.

What I don’t love are the plastic containers in which they’re packed. Those clamshell boxes are usually recyclable, but the little humidifier pads at the bottom aren’t, and avoiding plastic altogether is generally better for the environment than using it once and then recycling it.

That brings me to one of my favorite winter projects: growing my own sprouts.

In this planting zone, December gardening is a no-go unless you have a heated greenhouse or a hydroponic operation. Sprouts, however, grow just fine on a shelf in the dining room, where I keep a sprouter going most of the winter.

Theoretically, you can grow sprouts in a canning jar with a piece of cheesecloth stretched across the top, but I’ve never had good luck with this approach. Small sprouters are available for about $20 apiece (I use this one, but any similar model will do), and they tend to work much better than the canning-jar approach.

Alfalfa seeds, left, and lentils, right, are good for sprouting. You'll probably have to hit the health-food store for alfalfa seeds.
Alfalfa seeds, left, and lentils, right, are good for sprouting. You’ll probably have to hit the health-food store for alfalfa seeds.

Sprouting is easy, but like any other kind of gardening, it requires a little time and attention. Here’s the general upshot:

1. Change the water frequently. My sprouter is designed with stackable trays that have small drainage holes in the bottom. You run water in the top tray, and it percolates down, watering the sprouts at each level before collecting in a solid tray at the bottom. At least twice a day, I dump out the water, rotate the trays, and water the top one. (Don’t reuse the old water.)

2. Keep an eye on the drainage holes. As the roots grow, some may extend down into the holes and clog them up. If you notice water doesn’t seem to be draining right, sterilize a needle and use it to unclog the holes.

3. Don’t let your sprouts dry out. If your indoor air is really dry, you may need to cover the top to help keep moisture in for the first day or two. When the sprouts are about a quarter-inch long, remove the cover and start rotating the trays each time you water so the same tray isn’t constantly on top, where it’s more likely to dry out.

4. Stagger your plantings. Most varieties will go from seed to salad in three or four days. If you start new seeds every couple of days, you’ll have a constant supply of fresh greens. (Be sure to wash the trays in between harvests.)

You should be able to find sprouting seeds at any health-food store. You can also sprout brown lentils, which are available by the pound at pretty much any grocery store.


Vegetarian Friday: Pasta e lenticche

Despite growing up in a town full of Italians, I had never heard of pasta e lenticche until a friend of mine posted this recipe for it on Facebook a few months ago.

I took a Crock-Pot shortcut with the lentils and riffed on it just a little, ending up with what has become one of my favorite vegetarian meals. It’s easily veganized if you skip the milk, which I personally don’t think adds much.

2 T. olive oil
Small onion, chopped
Two small carrots, chopped (I used a couple of colorful ones from the farmers’ market)
Clove of garlic, minced
1 c. brown lentils
1 T. tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 T. Italian seasoning mix of your choice
8 oz. ziti or mostaccioli
1/3 c. milk
Hot sauce

auté the onion and carrots in olive oil about 5 minutes until the carrots soften. I started the carrots first, then added the onion a couple of minutes in. The original recipe says not to brown the onions, but I ignored that because caramelized onions always taste better. When vegetables are soft, add garlic and cook about a minute.

Put onion mixture, lentils, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaves, red pepper and seasoning in Crock-Pot, cover with about a quart of water, and let simmer overnight.

Just before you’re ready to serve, dump the contents of the Crock-Pot into a deep saucepan, add another cup of water and the milk, and bring to a boil. Add pasta and simmer 10-12 minutes until pasta is al dente and liquid has thickened and reduced a bit.

Serve in bowls with Parmesan, salt, and — if you’re me — plenty of hot sauce. (Note that I never add salt to dishes while I’m cooking them. Good chefs disapprove of this approach, but whenever I salt food as it’s cooking, the heat seems to break down the flavor so much that I end up having to add more at the table. Knowing how terrible excess sodium is for my body, I just can’t see salting my food twice to taste it once, so I just cut out the middleman and salt everything when it hits my plate. YMMV; plan accordingly.)

Serves four. I like this recipe because it tastes rich and hearty but contains very little fat and gives you a big nutritional bang for your calorie buck.