Sabzeh – Grow Green for Earth Day & Norooz
Earth Day is just around the corner, so a green post seems in order!
Any of the green-colored Persian dishes (Kookoo sabzi, ghormeh sabzi,sabzi polo, the list goes on) would make a nice homage but instead of making delicious (delicious!) food (that’s the next post), we want to do something evocative of hope and growth as a tribute to our dear Mother Earth.
So: let’s sprout seeds and grow sabzeh!
In the Persian culture, growing sabzeh is an integral part of the Persian New Year’s haft seen, symbolizing birth and growth. Wheat grass is also used and grown as a festive touch to celebrate Easter. I’m curious to find out if any other cultures do something similar around spring time? If you know, please do share.
Sabzeh is a cheap thrill and the labor involved is minimal – a little bit of give and a good bit of take! It’s just such an optimistic gesture to grow sabzeh: coddling a seed and coaxing sprouts out of it! Don’t you think? And it makes for an engaging kid-friendly activity as well. Ok, that’s it for the hard motivational sell!
Now, Mom has her handy-dandy method of sprouting sabzeh but this past Norooz I got it into my head to try to improve it. So for several weeks, every windowsill and most kitchen counters were taken over with jars and plates of seeds in various stages of sprouting. No complaints. As experiments go, this was a pleasing one. In the end, Mom’s original method (Mom does know best!) with a slight revision to include Najmieh Batmanglij’s bundling technique (which is a very good idea) came to make up the winning formula.
You can use either wheat or lentil to grow your sprouts. Wheat grows a ramrod straight head of grass (familiar to anyone living in the burbs), while lentil makes a curly-haired swervy do. If you’re debating which to use: as a pantry staple lentils are convenient to use but tend to turn out a bit on the scraggly side. Red wheat berries will most probably require a trip to your health store to procure but do make a thicker and more lush bed and can thrive despite occasional bouts of neglect. Ultimately, both are great and ah … green!
And now without further fanfare, here’s Fig & Quince’s fool-proof DIY sabzeh-growing directions.
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of lentil, or red wheat
- Paper towels
- Containers. Any plate, shallow bowl, or glass jar will do in a pinch. (Get creative! It’s fun to grow sabzeh in an unexpected container, bearing in mind that your container-of-choice does have to allow the seedlings to receive light and has to withstand consistent watering, i.e. don’t use cardboard boxes!)
- Soak seeds in a bowl for 24 to 48 hours. (Be sure to cover with at least an inch of water on top to allow for evaporation.) During this time change the water 1-3 times a day. If you’re using lentils, beware that lentils tend to gobble up almost all the water at their first soaking, so check and refill water when necessary.
- Once you detect hints of white sprouts, drain and spread seeds on a paper towel. Bundle all in this same paper towel, and let sit for another 24-48 hours, sprinkling it throughout the day as necessary to maintain bundle moist to the touch. Mind you: moist – not drenched! Avoid over-watering which is a kiss of death for sabzeh. You can keep the bundle inside the same bowl you used for soaking. Place in area exposed to direct sunlight to expedite growth of sprouts.
- Once seeds sport a green sprout: A) Line the bottom of your selected container with a paper towel cut to fit it. The paper towel provides a surface for the roots to grab a hold of and acts as a soil of sorts. This is Mom’s clever trick and it makes a world of difference. B) Spread the sprouting seeds inside the container. Evenly, so as to avoid bald spots! Thickness depends on the depth of your container. You don’t want a thin bed of seeds but also avoid piling it on too thick as it will suffocate the seeds. A 1/2 -3/4 inch spread is a good bet in general. C) Cover with a moist paper towel for a day or two and sprinkle periodically to maintain moist throughout this period.
- After a 1/4 inch growth spurt, remove the moist paper towel on top. Keep your sprout in a sunny place, and water it well once in the morning and once at night – tilting it over to drain all the extra water. And that’s it- sit back and enjoy watching your seedlings grow!
OK, I grew it! Now what do I do with it?
The sabzeh grown for the Persian New Year is tossed off on the 13th day of the new year in a special ceremony called sizdah bedar, so I’m afraid tending to the sabzeh is a strictly short and disposable love affair in the classic Persian tradition.
There is a wonderful and friendly vendor at Union Square’s Farmers Market in New York who sells wheat grass year-round and says it is a good and healthy treat for pets – I think for cats and rabbits. So that’s one good use right there, and you can cut wheat grass and use it as an ingredient for a health-conscious smoothie. Sabzeh can also be used as a centerpiece or decoration and it definitely adds a cheerful vibe to any surface. An unexpected use for me was when I planted a particularly thick wheat grass in soil to keep on my desk and I’ve ended up tucking my to-do note cards in it. It does require frequent haircuts to maintain a fresh non-scraggly look, but such are the labors of love!
So that’s it for Fig & Quince until next week, when we hope you’ll check in for the recipe of Mom’s tasty kookoo yeh sabzi (green fresh herb kookoo). Which let me tell you: is a thing of beauty!