SPROUTS

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every week at the farmers market I walked by the sprout vendors' tables. Their sprouts looked like collections of multicolored beads all sorted neatly into a patchwork of square boxes--pale orange lentils, golden garbanzos, brown kernels of wheat and dark green pumpkin seeds, ready for a crafts class to make them into mosaics. On the other side of the table were the brilliant green shoots of peas, radishes and sunflowers.

My closer acquaintance with sprouts was limited to the tangle of alfalfa sprouts familiar to anyone who ate a sandwich in the 1970s and mung bean sprouts in egg foo yung. I knew that sprouts were seeds or beans caught in the act of germinating, and they were good for you. That was about it.

One day I stopped at the sprout table and bought great-looking mesclun and a sprout mix to toss into it. By lunchtime I was converted.

A green salad tossed with a few sprouts is immediately more interesting in flavor and texture. I liked the radish sprouts, so innocent-looking but fiery in the mouth, and the sweet pea sprouts, because they tasted just like sweet peas. But the real deal, for me, was the mix of legumes: peas, multicolored lentils, mung beans and black beans, all mixed up. I steamed them lightly and tossed them with a bowlful of mixed Asian greens and slivered snap peas in a dressing of olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar. Wonderful.

I decided to make some hummus. I love it, but don't make it often because it requires all those hours of boiling beans. But with sprouted beans, cooking time is cut to minutes. (The sprout man thinks I'm crazy to cook them at all, but-- de gustibus .)

I simmered my sprouted garbanzos in salted water for a short while, then threw them in the Cuisinart with lemon juice, tahineh , a little garlic and a pinch of spicy pimiento. Minutes later I was eating delicious hummus with my toasted pita bread.

The next time I looked at a colander full of plump sprouted garbanzos, I decided to skip the food processor. I bathed them in olive oil and plenty of lemon juice, added a drop of dark sesame oil, some minced garlic and a handful of chopped cilantro and parsley and left them to marinate in the refrigerator. For lunch, I topped a plate of greens with a very tasty garbanzo bean salad.

I could add chopped red peppers to these, I thought. Or sweet onion, steamed potato, sliced celery or olives. But I didn't; I ate them just as they were--delicate, nutty and almost sweet inside, tangy outside and with that tender but firm texture that sprouted beans maintain. I'll be working my way through the variations this summer, when cool salads waiting in the fridge are like money in the bank.

My greatest success with cooked sprouts was a pilaf made of sprouted wheat berries and lentils. The wheat berries looked so enticing, with their thread-like tails. I steamed them, and they were pleasantly chewy and perfectly tender in about 20 minutes. I added pink and green lentils, steamed a few minutes more, then stirred in caramelized onions to make a richly satisfying pilaf. The wheat berries were sweet, plump and slightly crunchy, the lentils earthy, and the onions made it perfect.

I served the pilaf hot with roasted vegetables. I mixed in sauteed shiitake mushrooms, and it was even better. Then it had another life as a cold pilaf, mixed with red grapes and slivered almonds and scattered over a green salad. I spooned leftovers into pita bread with hummus and shredded lettuce for a great sandwich. I love those multitalented foods that can do drama or comedy, and sing and dance. What a dish!

Garbanzo and Potato Salad

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour 15 minutes * Vegetarian

Garbanzos and potatoes go together very well. It's a combination found often in Indian food, and in many Spanish dishes too. This tasty salad can be served over mixed greens, or by itself, and it makes an excellent picnic or potluck dish--much better than that old three-bean salad from the deli.

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1 pound sprouted garbanzo beans

Salt

1 pound boiling potatoes, such as Yukon Gold

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

6 tablespoons lemon juice

Pepper

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

Simmer the garbanzos in about a quart of salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, then taste one. They should be tender but firm, not mushy.

In another pot, cover the potatoes with cold, well-salted water, bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork--the time will vary with the size of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool completely.

Drain the garbanzos and rub them lightly between your hands in a bowl of cool water. Loose skins will come off and float to the top, where you can skim them off. You may have to squeeze the beans a bit to separate them from the skins. Drain again, and combine the beans with the olive oil, sesame oil, lemon juice, pepper to taste, cilantro, parsley and garlic. Stir well, and leave the beans to marinate.

When the potatoes are completely cool, peel them and dice them to the size of the garbanzos. Salt the diced potatoes, wait a few minutes, then stir them into the marinated beans. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt or pepper as needed.

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8 servings. Each serving: 165 calories; 212 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 27 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 3.57 grams fiber.

Sprouted Wheat And Lentil Pilaf

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 1 hour * Vegetarian

This partners up with all sorts of dishes--spicy, juicy, salty, savory, pungent.

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1/2 pound sprouted wheat berries

Salt

1/2 pound sprouted lentils, brown and pink

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

Combine the wheat berries in a saucepan with about 2 cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer the wheat for about 15 minutes. Stir in the sprouted lentils, cover the pan again, and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 10 more minutes. Strain the wheat berries and lentils and set them aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large nonstick pan, add the chopped onions and a good dash of salt, and cook the onions over low heat, stirring often, until they're soft and caramel-colored. This must be done slowly--it might take about 45 minutes--but the onion will develop a seductively rich flavor, both sweet and savory.

When the onion is golden brown, stir in the steamed wheat and lentils, and cook everything together for just a few minutes, tossing gently. Taste it, and correct the salt if needed. The pilaf can be served hot, with roasted or steamed vegetables. Or, allow it to cool and mix it with your favorite things to make terrific salads.

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8 servings. Each serving: 160 calories; 39 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 29 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 6.18 grams fiber.

Pilaf Salad With Red Grapes, Olives And Almonds

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 10 minutes * Vegetarian

This recipe uses the Sprouted Wheat and Lentil Pilaf recipe.

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2 cups Sprouted Wheat and Lentil Pilaf

2/3 cup seedless red grapes, halved

1/2 cup cured green olives

1/2 cup chopped or slivered almonds (toasted are best)

8 to 10 cups torn crisp salad greens, such as curly endive, radicchio, hearts of romaine and watercress

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Salt, pepper

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, for garnish

Mix together the pilaf, grapes, olives and most of the almonds, and toss.

Make a mixed green salad and dress it lightly with olive oil and just a touch of balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pile the dressed greens in a shallow serving bowl, and spoon the pilaf mixture over them. Crumble the feta over the pilaf, and scatter the last of the slivered almonds on top.

At the table, toss everything together before serving.

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6 servings. Each serving: 236 calories; 237 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 26 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams protein; 7.11 grams fiber.

Sprouted Garbanzo Hummus

Active Work Time: 10 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 40 minutes * Vegetarian

Serve this with pita triangles and a plate of crudites.

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1/2 pound sprouted garbanzo beans, about 1 1/2 cups

Salt

2 to 3 cloves garlic

1/4 cup tahineh

4 to 6 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Dash hot paprika

2 tablespoons virgin olive oil, optional

Place the garbanzos in a stainless steel pot with about 3 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, skim the foam off the top, then turn down the heat and simmer the garbanzos for about half an hour. Taste a garbanzo bean--it should be tender but not mushy. You can cook the beans longer, but it probably won't make any difference to their texture.

Allow the beans to cool, then strain them in a colander, reserving the liquid. If you like, you can run water over them and rub them gently between your fingers to loosen the skins, which can be discarded, but this is not a necessary step.

Pulse the garlic in a food processor until minced, then add the garbanzos, tahineh, 4 tablespoons of lemon juice, the sesame oil and a dash of spicy paprika (I like Piment d'Espelette). Process briefly, then add 3 or 4 tablespoons of the reserved bean liquid and process again until very smooth, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Taste the hummus and adjust the flavor with more lemon juice and more salt as needed.

To serve, spoon the hummus into a shallow bowl and smooth the top, then drizzle it with some good olive oil.

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About 2 cups hummus. Each of 2 tablespoons: 27 calories; 26 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 2 grams fat; 0 saturated fat; 2 grams carbohydrates; 1 grams protein; 0.44 gram fiber.

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