Bean sprouts are the only vegetable I can think of that you can grow very easily at home, even if you don't have a garden. Of course, they're not technically a vegetable; they're just beans that have begun to germinate and grow shoots. But they can be treated like a vegetable, and they have a fabulously clean flavor and addictive crunch. In winter, when bright-tasting vegetables are scarce and everyone seems to suffer from cabin fever, making sprouts is one of my favorite ways to pass the time and create something delicious at the same time. (Of course, you can also buy bean sprouts at Asian markets and some specialty grocery stores.)
What Kind of Bean Sprouts?
First, decide on a bean. Mung beans are the most commonly sprouted bean, but lentils and soybeans are also great. (You can also sprout seeds, whole grains, and even herbs by giving them the same treatment.) Any dried bean will work, but they have to be dried -- cooked or canned beans will not sprout. Larger beans will result in longer, thicker sprouts; smaller beans will be shorter and more delicate when sprouted.
Grow Your Own Bean Sprouts
The whole process of sprouting takes several days, but it requires very little effort and very little equipment; all you need is a clean jar with a 4-cup capacity and a covering for the jar that will allow water to pass through it (like a piece of cheesecloth or a cloth napkin).
Step 1: Put the beans in the jar, cover them with water, and let them sit for 6 to 12 hours.
Steps 2 - 30 are the same: Drain, rinse, drain again, and let sit. You'll drain and rinse the beans two to four times a day and let them sit away from direct sunlight for the rest of the time.
Within a few days, they'll start sprouting; after about a week, they'll be ready to eat. Let them sit in sunlight for a few hours -- which amazingly makes them turn green -- then serve.
Eat Them Raw
I can eat bean sprouts by the handful, but they also make a great addition to salads, especially with Asian-tinged dressings (think sesame oil, soy sauce, and minced fresh ginger). They're a traditional filling for summer rolls, the Vietnamese appetizers of rice paper wrapped around raw vegetables and sometimes shrimp.
They also are great in stir-fries, not least because they cook faster than just about anything else I can think of. (Seriously: two minutes on the heat, and you're done.) Jazz them up with a little spice, like Indian curry powder or Chinese five-spice powder (which traditionally contains Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds), and serve them with short-grain rice. Of course, bean sprouts are a little lacking in substance, which is a boon in salads but a drawback when you try to make them a main course. That's why I often add a little beef to stir-fried bean sprouts; its meatiness sets of the sprouts' daintiness, and the result is fabulous.