Sprouts are seedlings, newborn plants, just an inch or so long, and are mainly stem, which elongates to push the first set of leaves aboveground into the sunlight. … Many different plants are germinated to make edible sprouts, but most of them come from a handful of families: the beans (mung and soy, alfalfa), the grains (wheat, corn), the cabbage family (cress, broccoli, mustard, radish), the onion family (onions, chives). —Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (Hodder & Stoughton, 2004)

This course was designed to mix techniques from biology, horticulture and cooking. Its preparation takes anywhere from 5 to 10 days – as long as the sprout culture needs to germinate. The end result is a piquant sprout salad on a watercress gel, sprayed with a sherry-vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette, served with a black sesame cracker.

  • ~300 g various sprout seeds
  • 2 g agar-agar (E406)
  • 500 ml water

For the sprout mixture:

Buy several bags of sprout seeds (such as soy, lentils, leek, red cabbage, alfalfa, etc.), with different sprouting durations (pay attention that the duration is not longer than the time you have before the meal!). Wash them well and mix in a sterilised, sealable jar. Add water. The water level should be 3–4 cm above the level of the seeds. Leave the seeds to swell for 24 hours in a warm, dark place. Drain the seeds using a clean muslin cloth.

For the agar-agar base:

Combine 125 ml of water with agar-agar powder. Mix well until the powder is dissolved. Mix in the remaining water and bring to the boil. While the gel is still hot and liquid, pour approximately 2–4 mm of the liquid into sterilised petri dishes. Allow to cool.

Culturing:

Once the agar-agar base has cooled down, sprinkle the seed mixture on it. The layer of seeds shouldn’t be too thick – each seed has to be able to put roots down into the agar-agar base. Close the petri dishes (with their lids) as soon as possible, to prevent contamination. If you use a different container, make sure the top is sterilised and can seal the container well. Leave to sprout in a warm, dark place. Depending on the level of humidity, you might need to spray the culture with clean water once every day. The day before the dish is served, take the lids off the dishes and allow the sprouts to grow in open containers. It is very important to make sure the room is clean at this stage, as there is the possibility that the cultures will be contaminated by yeasts or other fungi.

NOTE: Wet and warm conditions of sprout culturing favour the growth of microbes, so make sure that all your equipment and containers are sterile (use a microwave to sterilise them) and the room is as clean as possible.

Agar-agar (E406) is a gelling agent, a polysaccharide extracted from the cell walls of some species of red algae or seaweed.

  • 250 g watercress water
  • 0.9 g agar-agar (E406)
  • Salt to taste

Infuse water with finely-chopped watercress at 60°C (to preserve the bright green colour) for 1–2 hours au bain-marie. Filter watercress leaves through a fine muslin cloth, to preserve the transparency of the water. Combine a quarter of the watercress water with agar-agar. Bring to boil over medium heat while stirring continuously. Remove from heat and add the remaining watercress water (still at 60°C), salted to taste. Foam briefly using an electric blender. Pour carefully into the petri dishes from one side, not on top of the fragile sprouts. Allow to gel in a cool place for at least three hours.

Agar-agar (E406) is a gelling agent, a polysaccharide extracted from the cell walls of some species of red algae or seaweed.

  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Sherry vinegar to taste
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a jar, shake well and reserve in the fridge.

Before serving, fill a spray bottle with dressing and spray lightly over the sprouts. Serve the dish with crumbled almonds and a black-rice and sesame cracker (we used the Japanese Wakama brand – http://www.auravita.com/brands/aura/Wakama.asp).

We obtained our sprouts from Ecoflora (http://www.ecoflora.be) and watercress, agar-agar and black rice crackers from the organic shop Den Theepot (http://www.bioshop.be/winkels/brussel.html). We purchased the olive oil from Canette (http://www.canette.be) and sherry vinegar from a local supermarket. We used ordinary table salt, and bought pepper from Supi Seshan of The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (http://libarynth.org/gurukula_botanical_sanctuary) at a FoAM event in Amsterdam.

(an sidebar recipe)