One of my great joys is to wander the aisles of a well stocked Asian grocery in fascination of the seemingly endless amount of ingredients and foods of which I apparently know nothing. I often jot down the names I find, and spend hours of great fun later on the web discovering another new food of the world. Perhaps too often, I fall to the temptation of buying a completely new ingredient without even knowing how it is used – some of these spend years on my Asian ingredient ‘collection’ shelves before I finally come to my senses and throw it out. But it’s part of the fun, so I don’t dwell on it.
Of course we don’t have any local Asian markets in my neighborhood, so I save up my needs, and my desire to have a new Asian food adventure for one of our infrequent trips into Eugene, our shopping town. This is my current heart’s desire: Sunrise Market. And I do not jest when I say I can easily spend two hours ‘browsing’ – Sandee is very kind during these times, and she has her new toy – a Kindle – which I guess is her way of having a fun adventure just as I do inside the Asian market – so she patiently sits in the car and reads.
But my absolute favorite Asian grocery of all time: Uwajimaya. There is no such thing as a trip anywhere near Seattle that does not include a stop at Uwajimaya – and sadly, Sandee knows well that some trips to Seattle have been made specifically to visit. There is an outpost of Uwajimaya in Beaverton, Oregon, which we have of course visited on occasion, but it pales in comparison to Seattle’s Uwajimaya, which has grown into a ‘village’ containing many independent stores within the mother store – all neatly part of Seattle’s good sized and growing International District.
My fascination with Asian groceries dates back to my college days and the many trips we would make into New York City’s Chinatown – in those days, I wasn’t doing any cooking in my dorm room, so there was seemingly little reason to spend hours mulling the exotic ingredients on the shelves of those stores, but I did so anyway – I found the appeal and allure of those groceries to be uniquely addicting, from the lacquered ducks in the window, to the unpacked boxes of mysterious foreign products that jammed and clogged the aisles, to the unforgettable smells that invited one’s senses to journey to far-away places of imagined romance and adventure – it was enough for a lifetime of inspiration, and my love affair was thus aroused.
In those early days, it was unusual to find an Asian grocery anywhere outside of an urban pocket of ethnic population, but during the 80s and 90s, tiny enclaves of Asian food shops began to spring up across America, almost always in urban centers. At first, these stores only carried dry goods and foods that had long shelf lives – but this kind of merchandise makes up the majority of the stock in an Asian grocery even today, when there are now much more perishable goods than ever before.
I watched the growth of Sunrise Asian Market from the late 90s, when it began on the edge of town, in a small, cramped store in the rear of a dying shopping center. It was difficult to find at first, but was soon discovered by those who knew they’d find ingredients there that were only available otherwise by a trip to Portland. Surprisingly, the store was well stocked, and the prices shockingly inexpensive. It didn’t take long before it couldn’t handle the crowds of customers jamming its narrow aisles – and in the early 2000s, Sunrise moved to a thriving part of Eugene’s commercial downtown fringe. Its space more than doubled, and its merchandise soon represented every area of East Asia – I was delighted, and spent many wonderful hours getting introduced to new ingredients and foods.
It’s now been almost ten years since Sunrise opened in its new location, and of course, prices are no longer shockingly inexpensive – in fact, if one is not careful, it’s easy to even pay more for rice here than elsewhere – and that’s just not right. But it took a different sort of breach of trust recently to shake my previous love of this place – one day a few months ago I went into Sunrise seeking some advice -as I had done many times before- about sprouting mung beans at home. I wanted to do this because although I’ve never thought bean sprouts at my local Safeway grocery were expensive, they were all too often old and nasty looking – I thought, ‘Why not learn how to sprout my own, and then anytime I want them, I’ll just sprout some.’
So I walked back to the rear of the store, where I knew the owner would be, and I asked him if the mung beans he had up front were the kind that could be sprouted at home – he looked at me quickly and said, “No!” – and then he added, “Buy them in the fresh produce section instead (where they could be found in huge bags for a few dollars).” OK, I’d done that many times – and many times I’d thrown away the majority of them as they turned to mush before I could use them. No, I needed to find sprout-able mung beans.
I had no reason to believe that he had lied to me, but I suspected perhaps he had. What did I have to lose? I walked to the front, found the mung bean section (there were at least 5 types and sizes), picked out a two pound bag for $1.59, and added it to my basket. I’d give them a try at home, and see what happened – and if they sprouted as I suspected they would, I’d be happy for that – but I’d also be saddened by the willingness of someone I had trusted to lie for the benefit of a few pennies.
Well, of course they sprouted – and the internet is filled with first hand accounts of successful sprouting experiences. Not only that, but they are easy to sprout – all you really need is a 1 quart mason jar, and the ring from the lid assembly (wide is better), and a small piece of screening or mesh that you can secure with an elastic band or the jar’s ring band.
And if that sounds easy, the procedure is equally easy – if you have some mung beans, put 1/2 cup into your quart jar, and fill it with warm water – let the beans soak overnight, but not more than 8 hours – now drain them, rinse them, and turn them upside-down on a plate in a dark area of your kitchen counter. Each day for the next 4 or 5 days, refresh the sprouting beans with fresh water, but be sure to drain it well before turning it over again on the plate – do that morning and evening. Every day, the expanding sprouts in your jar will grow – when you begin to see tiny emerging tips of green leaves, you’re more than done! For maximum sweetness, catch them right before they hit this stage.
I’ve also used two layers of wet paper towels on a pie plate, with the mung beans in-between -again in a dark area- and each day you simply run cold water over the towels until they are soaked – tilt the pan and let the excess water run off until it’s just dripping – put the plate back in a dark area. Do this twice a day for 3-5 days, depending on how warm it is, and the beans are well sprouted. If you wish, you may wash off the loose hulls, but there’s nothing inedible about them – I often leave them in the dish I’m making – more fiber. And if you want larger sprouts, give them an extra day – but a few may discolor – some sprouters throw these out, but I tasted them and they taste exactly like all the others, so I ate them – and I’m still here – if it bothers you, pitch those.
And yes, I did use the sprouts for dinner that evening – a veg side dish of sprouts and snow peas from the garden, sauteed with oyster sauce – and yes, I did want to have a pic of that dish here, but just as I was moving it from the wok to the serving plates, I couldn’t find the camera – I’m sure all my blogging friends know the feeling!
And for you bakers, if you ever want to try a sprouted wheat (or any grain you wish) bread, simply put a half cup of the grain into either of the above containers, and follow the outlined procedure. Just be sure you keep your grains out of the light – this is more important with grains than with beans – the grain will quickly begin to ‘green’ in the light, and lose its sweet taste. In fact, some bakers don’t want their grain to sprout any more than barely beginning to emerge at the tip of the grain, and this takes only a day or two – then find a recipe for a sprouted grain bread and be ready for an entirely new taste experience.
I think I’ll do a sprouted wheat bread post soon.
top – seattletimes.com
mid1 – Doug DuCap, Flickr.com
mid2 – reporting1blog.wordpress.com
the rest are my own!