I'm not always one for throwback foods, but there is something to be said for those '80s- style sandwiches packed with avocado and alfalfa sprouts. The week before Labor Day, our family used to make our annual 5-hour trek to the Trinity Alps, mountains in California's far-north and least-populated county, to wallow in swimming holes and toast marshmallows in campfires. One day out of the week, we'd head for civilization—a town called Weaverville—to pick up provisions and stop for lunch.
Weaverville had its charms—a pottery studio, a shop filled with western boots, jeans, and fridge leather jackets, an ice cream parlor—but in no way would it be mistaken for a culinary destination. Still, maybe it was due to all that hiking and swimming or maybe it was because eating in restaurants was a rare treat for me, but I still count the sandwich I ate in a no-name diner in Weaverville as one of the best I've ever had.
It was a club sandwich, California-style. Piled in between two halves of a toasted croissant were avocado slices, alfalfa sprouts, and thick slices of tomato layered over mayonnaise. And bacon and turkey. In my memory, the meats were more like seasoning agents. Still, I couldn't stop eating it.
Years later, I realized what I appreciated so much was the perfect combination of ripe tomato against the creamy, salty mayonnaise, which alone makes a great sandwich. The sprouts weren't the main event, but they were also certainly integral to the overall impression.
Call it nostalgia for Labor Days past, but I've been thinking about recreating that Weaverville sandwich. Yet I rarely buy sprouts because they don't last long in the refrigerator. And then I found a workaround. Mid-August, I was visiting my sister in Seattle when I saw sprouts growing on her counter. She showed me the set-up:
- Take a quart-sized mason jar, add a spoonful or two of alfalfa seeds, and soak them.
- The next day, affix a perforated lid to the top of the jar and drain it, leaving the jar upside down to allow for drainage.
- Rinse the seeds twice a day for a couple of days, they'd turn into something resembling the sprouts from sandwiches of yore.
I had to try it myself.
Since I had the Mason jar at home, what I needed were the lids and the seeds. We drove to the PCC, a local grocery in the style of Whole Foods, and bought the lids, which come in a pack of three and vary depending on how large the perforated holes. I don't have allegiance to any particular brand, but the grocery store set up Sprout-Ease Econo-Sprouter Toppers next to its array of seed packets, so that's what we bought. They were also inexpensive, easy to pack, and would fit on the quart-sized Mason jars I had at home.
The lids themselves are easy to use. From the time the seeds are soaked to the time the seeds start to sprout but are still fairly small, you need to use the lid with the smallest holes. When they've sprouted and are about an inch long, you graduate to the lid with the medium holes, which allows you to rinse away the husks from the sprouts.
As far as quantity of seeds, Maureen used two heaping tablespoons of alfalfa seeds, which she acknowledged had been a bit much for the Mason jar to handle. I took note, pledging to use a more modest amount. At home, I found 1 1/2 tablespoons, give or take, worked well enough to fill up one quart-sized jar.
Alfalfa sprouts take 4 to 5 days to fully sprout. I left mine on the counter for a fifth day and they turned a nice green color. (The science of chlorophyll and sunlight on full display.)
They were good, too, if not anything different than what you'd expect an alfalfa sprout to taste like. What's fascinating, though, was thinking about other things I could sprout. The third lid in the series had the largest holes, which was too large for alfalfa but could be perfect for sprouting garbanzo or other kinds of larger beans. In Myanmar, sprouting beans before cooking them is a common way to make them more digestible and tender. I always thought the effort would be more trouble than it was worth... but now with my jar, a set of lids, and a new appreciation for sprouting science, I'm ready to go all in.
Below, the sprouting action: