Grow fresh sprouts all year long

Gardeners are naturals when it comes to home-grown sprouts. You can produce a crop on your countertop in just a few days, without getting your hands dirty.

Sprouts have come a long way since the days of avocado and bean-sprout sandwiches on health-food restaurant menus. Mung bean sprouts are still around — and they remain perhaps the most popular sprout — but more delicate and even more delicious seeds bring sprouts up to date: try broccoli sprouts and mixes containing broccoli, radish, arugula, mustard, and clover. Their fresh, crisp texture and spicy or nutty flavors are delicious in salads, on sandwiches, in stir-fry dishes and soups, and stirred into hummus and other dips.

The best seeds to start with are seeds sold especially for sprouting. These packages generally contain more seeds than a package of seeds for garden planting, so you’ll have plenty for several batches of sprouts. Just as a mesclun mix combines several great lettuces and greens, a zesty sprouting-seed mix will introduce you to the interesting flavors of several kinds of sprouts.

Sprout-starting kits make it easy. You don’t have to wait for the weather to cooperate: it’s always sprouting season. Start with a tablespoon of seeds, or two tablespoons at most, while you learn the process. Simply soak the seeds for a few hours, rinse thoroughly, and allow them to germinate in the sprouter. It is important to rinse and drain the seeds thoroughly twice a day, using plenty of water, to keep them from getting musty or moldy. Some sprouters are translucent, to shelter the sprouts from direct light; if you use a quart jar with a screen or cheesecloth over the opening, cover the jar (but not the opening) with a dishcloth to protect the seeds from light until they sprout.

After a few days of rinsing and draining, the seeds sprout and put out their first tiny leaves. When you see leaves, allow the sprouts a little light, so they will green up a bit. Taste a few — they are ready to eat when you like the way they taste. Some sprouts are best after just two or three days, and others take five days to develop. If you make more than you need, rinse the sprouts, dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner, and store them in a plastic bag in the crisper. They will keep for a week or more, but savor them, don’t save them. It’s easy to plant another crop.

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