There are many different ways we prepare raw foods to make them palatable. Ayurveda says आरोग्यमं भोजनाधीनाम् (arogyam bhojanaadheenaam), health depends on the food one consumes. The foremost Ayurveda classic Charaka Samhitha describes various methods of संस्कार (samskara) which is preparing the raw food for consumption. It is said that संस्कारो हि गुणांतर आधानाम् उच्यते (sanskaro hi gunantaradhanam uchyate), the main purpose of samskara or preparing is to bring the required quality change to raw food material before it is consumed. One of these methods is तोय सन्निकर्ष (thoya sannikarsha), soaking and sprouting which is treatment using water. Soaking softens the grains before cooking and the subsequent germinating improves the nutritional and digestible quality of the grains.
We have now come to realise that the processed foods that we buy commercially, lack “prana” and are assiduously trying to avoid them. This is where eating whole grains, especially whole grains and lentils that have been sprouted come in. Long back, people found that once lentils start germinating, not only did they become more palatable, but also more nutritious. Grains are dormant and the process of soaking and sprouting kick starts their metabolism as a result of which the seeds and lentils basically come to life. The nutrients not only increase but there is an increase in the bio availability of some of the vitamins too. Sprouting also reduces the starch content, proteins are broken into amino acids and on the whole are easier for us to digest.
Chinese physicians many thousands of years back used sprouted grains to cure certain diseases and ailments. In the 1700s, sailors found that eating sprouted moong beans cured scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C. In the Old Testament there is a mention of Ezekiel bread made by storing wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millets and spelt in a jar (to germinate) and used to make bread. Evidence of sprouted grains have been found in archaeological sites more than 8000 years old. All the collective wisdom of our ancestors give us indications of how to use these grains. Evidence of large granaries and implements used to pound grains into flour are also seen in Mohanjodaro and Harappa also.
For as long as I can remember, my mother would always sprout whole moong dal for making dal or sundal. And whenever she made sathu maavu kanji (cereal powder made for kids with different grains and lentils) she would get the 16 grains/lentils that would go into it and wash, soak, sprout, dry, roast and then grind them. At that time, I did not give it much thought, but definitely enjoyed the aroma of them being roasted and ground.
The method my mother used was to soak the seeds/lentils overnight and next morning transfer to a muslin cloth and tie it. She would sprinkle a little bit of water on the cloth once in the morning and once at night and get sprouts in a couple of days. The only drawback I have found with this method is that the roots that grow pierce the cloth and when you remove the sprouts, these roots would not only break but also be time consuming to remove.
Another way is to transfer the soaked lentils to a glass bottle jar and cover the mouth of the jar with a muslin cloth and keep the jar tilted in another cup to drain all the water. These lentils have to washed and drained twice a day and in a couple of days you will get your sprouts.
A third and by far, the easiest method I have found is to transfer the soaked beans to a container with lots of holes (you can make holes in a plastic single use water bottle and use that too). Transfer the soaked lentils to this container, drain and cover with a plastic bag so that no air goes in. The plastic sealed bag provides the required humidity and temperature to sprout the grains. Simply put it away for 2-3 days and when you open it you will have these lovely sprouts that you can use in your cooking.
Sprouts have been associated with our religious and social ceremonies like weddings also. Sprouts are considered a symbol of prosperity and fertility. The பாளிகை (paaligai) ritual at a South Indian wedding is done by soaking 9 types of grains in 5 clay pots with sand the day before the wedding. On the wedding day, the 5 married women take turns sprinkling these grains and water in the clay pots, after which the sprouted grains are put in a river. This is an age old ritual and mention of this ritual is even found in the tamil classic சிலப்பதிகாரம் in the description of the wedding ceremony of Kannagi and Kovalan.
…..விளக்கினர் கலத்தினர் விரித்த பாலிகை முளைக்குட நிரையினர் முகிழ்த்த மூரலர் …. (ladies with beautiful smiles carried lamps and pots and sprinkled the paaligai).
In Kolhapur, Mahalakshmi is offered sprouted grains during Navaratri. In the Bal Kwanri Devi temple near Rishikesh, a festival for Devi called Hariyali Pooja (green worship) is conducted where millets are offered to Devi. Containers are kept in the temple and devotees place their offering of millets in them for germination. After 9 days of Pooja, the millets would have sprouted and are then distributed as prasadam.
Sprouts have been an integral part of our culture, both culinary and otherwise and should now be reinstated as a part of our mainstream cooking techniques. You can sprout most of the whole grains and lentils that we use in our cooking. I have sprouted fenugreek seeds also and made thokku, sundal and pulav with it. I always keep a container of sprouts available in my fridge. The home sprouted lentils stay fresh in the fridge up to a week. Use your sprouted lentils in dals, kadi, salads, sundals and more.