Other than increasing the nutrient value of legumes, sprouting also enhances their flavour and makes them easily digestible.
Horse gram, a much underrated and inexpensive legume from India, is actually one of the most protein-rich lentils on the planet. It’s a powerhouse of protein, essential amino acids, carbohydrates, calcium, iron and fibre so no wonder it was historically used as a feed for horses before races. But it’s about time we started eating grains and legumes that we fed to budgerigars and horses ourselves.
Why sprout horse gram?
Sprouting makes the legume nutritionally dense, easily absorbable and digestible. And don’t ignore the inherent earthy flavour of this legume that is only amplified by sprouting, making your curries, soups and salads all the more delicious. Finally, sprouted horse gram takes far less time to cook.
What is sprouting?
It’s a natural process of germinating seeds into shoots. These shoots can be further nurtured to grow into a new plant. In a culinary context, the term usually means germinating seeds to be eaten raw or cooked so as to enhance their nutritional value and flavour.
How do I sprout horse gram in a cooler climate like the UK?
Sprouting is science. But it’s not rocket science. A bit of logic and common sense can see you sprout pretty much anything you take a fancy to, be it a seed, grain or even a vegetable. All you need is a conducive environment for the seeds to shoot; nature does the rest. And conducive means not killing the subject by exposing it to harsh conditions. For example: if you pour hot kettle water onto dried horse gram seeds to soak them, that’s going to kill half of the seeds straight away, even though horse gram has a pretty robust protective shell. So the basic school of thought is to give the seeds some moisture, a bit of warmth and allow them to breathe in a dark place for at least 12 hours before you see the magical shoots sprout.
And there’s no one way to achieve those perfect conditions. Your ingenuity can work wonders for your sprouting technique. I’ve worked out my own fool-proof method for sprouting beans, lentils, grains and legumes here in the UK that works even in the midst of a cold winter. Here’s how I do it:
- First wash the dried horse gram with water at room temperature. You can mix a bit of hot and cold tap water to wash. Then soak it for at least 8 hours, ideally 12, fully submerged in lukewarm water. The seeds will swell as they soak so allow enough water to keep them immersed. This will allow the horse gram to become soft. I usually soak it overnight.
- The next day, at your own convenience, strain the horse gram with a sieve. You don’t necessarily need to do this exactly after 8-12 hours of soaking. The seeds will still keep well if you soak for slightly longer than recommended. But please don’t leave them soaking for more than a day. Once the seeds have been strained, rinse them gently with fresh water from a running tap at room temperature again. As for the water that has been drained from the soaked legume, either discard it or save it to cook ‘horse gram curry’ or ‘usal’ later.
- Spread the soaked horse gram on a wide plate or ‘parat’ lined with a tea-towel or kitchen paper and leave to air for about 10 minutes. Since my horse gram is sourced straight from our ancestral farm in India, it sometimes has a few tiny stones that are hard to spot until the legume has been soaked. So I take this opportunity to inspect and remove any stones that might be there.
- Now, soak a cotton tea-towel or cloth under a running lukewarm tap and wring it tightly. Fold the wrung but damp cloth and lay at the bottom of a lidded box (plastic will do, if you already own one) such that you can fold it further to form layers inside the box.
- Evenly spread the soaked horse gram over the first layer of cloth. Fold the cloth over to cover the first layer of horse gram. Then spread another layer of horse gram and fold the cloth over that too. Finally once all the legume is spread and covered, place the lid loosely on the box i.e. don’t suffocate the shoots with an air-tight seal. I have shown how this is done for moth beans below. The same can be done for horse gram.
- Place this box containing the horse gram somewhere inside your airing-cupboard or anywhere in the house where it’s warm and preferably dark. Leave for at least 12 hours and ideally for a day to allow the sprouts to fully shoot.
- Open the lid and revel in the beauty and glory of your sprouts. Cook them the same day while they are lovely and fresh
How do I sprout horse gram in a warmer climate like in India?
Follow steps 1, 2 and 3 above. Then, tie the horse gram in a muslin cloth that has been soaked and tightly wrung. Place the muslin parcel, covered by a container or bowl, in a warm place.
How do you eat horse gram sprouts?
You can either sprinkle them on top of your salad and eat them raw, or cook them. My daughter loves her boiled sprouted horse gram. Pressure cook it as is, seasoned with salt to taste for 2 whistles or 12 minutes in an Instant pot. Ladle out into a bowl, garnish with coriander or freshly grated coconut and you’re in heaven. The other classic horse gram dish is what we call ‘usal’ in Maharashtra – a runny curry that is traditionally served with a millet flatbread though a chapati or rice will do nicely too.
Horse gram sprouts are best consumed fresh, especially when eating raw. But if you must store them, place them in a kitchen paper lined, airtight and lidded container in the fridge. They will keep well for upto 5 days.
Notes and tips:
- Do not soak the legumes in boiling hot water.
- Always fully submerge them in water when soaking.
- Sprouting times vary depending on temperature and humidity. In warm countries like India, sprouting may be quicker whereas in countries like the UK, it may take longer than a day.
- If you soaked them in water for longer than a day, that’s still fine as long as they weren’t left soaking for another day.
- If the horse gram hasn’t sprouted after a day, give it one more day before giving up.
- There is more than one way to sprout legumes. For example, you can follow the same technique described above but swap the cotton tea-towel with kitchen paper.
- Many houses in the UK have some sort of hot water tank storage space called an airing-cupboard which is ideal for sprouting. If you don’t have one, find somewhere consistently warm but not hot, e.g. near a radiator but not on top of one.
- Some people have successfully sprouted horse gram in a warm (not hot) oven. Let me know if you’ve tried the oven sprouting technique.
- You can use any container to sprout in. I have been sprouting in the same trusty plastic container with great success for years, but you can also try in a steel container. I’ve been told you can even use the casserole boxes that are commonly seen in India. Do let me know if this technique works in these containers, if you try.
- I have successfully sprouted horsegram, moth beans, mung beans and Bengal gram using this techique.