It is the day the apple blossoms and the bees reacquaint themselves after a long winter separation -- the one day each year for which I wait patiently. It excites me to meander through the orchard, the grass still heavy with morning dew wet on my feet, not only hearing but feeling the hum of the bees' wings. The honey bees' haunches are so heavy with pollen that the soft breeze easily blows them off course, gently catching them in the safety net of hundreds of other apple blossoms.
But the reunion feels late this year. It's like it got pushed back a couple of weeks from its traditional date. Maybe it didn't. Maybe all the food magazines and blogs just put out their spring recipes earlier in the race to one-up each other. I guess that could have been it -- spring wasn't late; everyone else was early.
Whatever the reason, all the spring recipes threw me and created a serious want for spring vegetables when there were none. With the exception of sorrel, my gardens lay barren.
So I went to Florida.
I always like our family trek to visit my parents. The Florida sun goes a long way toward healing my woes. The change in venue gets me excited about food. I always enjoy an adventure to a good farmers market and the one on Sanibel Island, while not big, is really good.
At the market I stumbled upon the sprout man. He and his wife grow beautiful sprouts and lettuces of all kinds. They were offering peppery mizuna and mustardy baby Asian greens. They had all kinds of sprouts -- buckwheat, wheatgrass, pea -- but the sprouts that caught my attention were the sunflower greens. I had never had them.
The grower offered me a taste and the small green shoot, reminiscent of artichokes, immediately surpassed my expectations. They were a ten on what I call the Steamed Broccoli Scale. The SBS is when the broccoli is so good and nutritious-tasting, doing anything more to them than steaming could be criminal.
Let me explain. I created the SBS for vegetables that attain the status of incredibly delicious and super nutritious all at the same time. Mostly it relies on extreme freshness and your body's nutritional needs. In times of need, eating them makes your body quiver. You might even release a sigh and your shoulders could go slack. The experience is much more than simple taste because it simultaneously crosses into the realm of utterly good for you.
During the vacation not only could I not stop eating the sunflower greens but I also couldn't stop thinking about growing them back at home. I knew I could grow them -- the sprout man at the market showed me pictures of how he did it and I had already watched multiple YouTube videos. My decision was made pretty much the second I tasted them at the market: I would supplement my wait for spring. I would grow sprouts and patiently wait for that day I look forward to each year when the honey bees and apple blossoms reacquaint themselves.
1. Watch multiple how-to videos and choose a method that works best for your needs.
2. Be careful what water you use and what you use to water. The first sprouts I grew tasted like the plastic watering can because I let it sit with water in it. The water picked up the plastic flavor and transferred the taste to the spouts.
3. Have a fan running at all times if you are sprouting indoors. This is really key to keeping any molds at bay.
4. I am growing four different sprouts: peas, sunflower, buckwheat, and wheatgrass. I think variety is important.
5. All the people who sprout do so in really big trays. I started out doing this, but then decided it was better to do half-trays. It has been more than plenty for my family.
6. I find the soil/root mat that is left after cutting the sprouts is really good to add to the composter, especially the pea shoots that produce nitrogen.
Yellow Beet Carpaccio with Sunflower Sprouts
6 yellow or golden beets, racquet ball sized, washed and scrubbed
1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
A handful fresh sunflower greens
1 handful of thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, from above sprigs
1 teaspoon chives, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
Photos by Tom Hirschfeld