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Mediterranean Cooking from the Garden with Linda Dalal Sawaya: 2016 declared Year of the Pulses!

posted on: Jan 27, 2016

tabbouli with sprouted quinoa © linda dalal sawaya 2016

The United Nations declared 2016 the UN International Year of the Pulses! What are pulses? Legumes including lentils, beans, and peas that create nitrogen when planted in the soil, and provide protein and other nutrients when eaten. Hommous may be celebrated internationally this year as an infamous pulse, whose origins are marked by international disputes. In the spirit of this UN declaration, I not only plant, cook, and eat pulses, but I sprout them, along with grains and seeds, and we enjoy them in a variety of ways.

peas dried, fell on the grass, and began to sprout in the rain © linda dalal sawaya 2016

In the dark days of winter, when there are not many salad greens available, as well as in the sunny days of summer when there are, I like to make sprouts of all kinds: seeds, nuts, and beans or legumes/pulses. Sprouts are full of life, as the seed soaked in water germinates, grows, and yields to the natural forces and cycles of birth, growth, reproduction, and decline. In one tiny seed or bean lies the potentiality of the full grown plant, full of nutrients, and enzymes. Moisture is the ingredient required for sprouting a seed or bean that has dried from the previous season, and for quickening the process innate within it springing it into life from dormancy.

In Lebanon, sprouts made from wheat berries, beans, and other grains are used to decorate nativity scenes and to reaffirm the birth of baby Jesus. Purely for decor, rather than for nutrition, they are not traditionally eaten. Possibly the western trend towards making and consuming sprouts will migrate to the Mediterranean. The only sprouts seeming to be prevalent in that region are brussels sprouts, which are sprouts of a different nature.

Seed and bean sprouts do have nutritional value, and yet are susceptible to bacterial problems. Personally, I avoid purchasing sprouts, and prefer to grow my own using organic seeds, beans, grains, and legumes.

lentils soaking in water © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Sprouting is quite simple: organic seeds, grains, or nuts are soaked overnight in a glass container full of filtered water, and allowing space for expansion. The next day, the seeds/nuts are drained and rinsed. Depending upon the size of the seed, sprouting can happen in just a few hours for quinoa or take several days with larger seeds or beans.

sprouting lentils © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Twice a day, morning and evening, I rinse and drain the sprouts in the glass jar that is covered with a screen. Once the sprouting has begun, the sprouts can be eaten and the  jar refrigerated to slow down the process and keep the sprouts a bit longer. Mung bean sprouts used in Asian cuisine have additional requirements, so if you want to make those, you’ll need to put them in the dark with a heavy weight on top of them, which encourages their elongation. Keeping them in the dark, prevents chlorophyll from forming and making them green. Soaking also makes the bean or grain more digestible, even if not sprouted.

sprouting lentils © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Typically you’ll find a jar or two of sprouts growing on my kitchen counter for generous use in salads: sprouted quinoa in tabbouli, sprouted sunflower seeds and lentils in salads add crunch and flavor.

As a gardener in the Pacific Northwest famous for a plethora of slugs of all sizes, I pre-sprout seeds for my vegetable garden in the same way, to give them a headstart. Hungry slugs devour planted seeds before or after sprouting; so organic, safe, slug bait and bird screening is also essential where I live. Birds totally love sprouted seeds and beans, oh, yes! This also is a great way to determine seed viability if I have saved seeds from previous years; I can see what percentage will actually sprout.

sprouting peas, cucumbers, and Lebanese kousa (read the seed packet) for spring and summer planting © linda dalal sawaya 2016

My garden is currently undergoing a new process that I recently learned about from friends who said in our serious drought, and extra-warm Portland summer, they did not water their garden all summer using this technique!


fall greens bed surrounded by wood chips © linda dalal sawaya 2016

On the other hand, my $400 water bill for two of the 4 months when watering was essential, convinced me to give this method a try. It’s like permaculture, but a bit more extreme: sheet layering or sheet composting. First I’m laying down wonderful burlap coffee bags and then lots of wood chips delivered free to us by tree companies.


burlap bags and wood chip mulch in the garden © linda dalal sawaya 2016

After many years of gardening organically, starting with bio-dynamic French intensive method back in the 1970s which I learned at Camp Joy in Boulder Creek, which is still thriving 45 years later, I am transitioning. Ah, the days when I was much younger and could double-dig the soil are gone.


Japanese mustard and spearmint in the garden © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Italian parsley survived the snow and ice © linda dalal sawaya 2016


multiplier onions iced in (left) survive (right) with Persian cress volunteering beside it  © linda dalal sawaya 2016

The few greens that survived the snow and ice we’ve had so far, are wonderful. The Italian parsley, cilantro, and arugula are doing okay, along with the chard, kale, and Japanese mustard volunteer. Even the nana (spearmint) has begun to grow and the multiplier onions I planted in the fall are okay, accompanied by seedlings of Persian cress which went to seed in that spot last summer. Yet my sprouts add extra deliciousness to the table. Give sprouting a try, and see if you get hooked on it like I did, especially with the pulses like French lentils.


sunflower seed sprouts and bean sprouts in salads © linda dalal sawaya 2016

Happy sprouting, gardening, cooking, and pulse eating in this International Year of the Pulses!

Linda Dalal Sawaya is a Portland artist, cook, Master Gardener, daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and author of Alice’s Kitchen: Traditional Lebanese Cooking   

Remember, as my mother Alice said, “If you make it with love, it will be delicious!”

Story and all photos © linda dalal sawaya 2016