Beansprouts tend to come in bags that hold far more than you can use before they start to go off. We asked a panel of culinary experts how they save them from the food-waste bin
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What can we use beansprouts for, apart from in stir-fries? We never know what to do with the remaining beansprouts in a bag and usually end up composting them. Robin and Catherine, Leatherhead, Surrey
The downside to beansprouts is that they don’t last long. Happily, that crisp texture and grassy flavour is welcome in many more dishes than stir-fries, so there is hope for Robin and Catherine yet. But before we get into that, it’s perhaps worth addressing how best to keep beansprouts, to prevent them from ending up in the compost bin prematurely.
“The key is water, so the drier [the beansprouts], the better,” says Thuy Diem Pham, author of The Little Viet Kitchen. Beansprouts are grown in moist conditions where bacteria can grow, so you want to wash them thoroughly first, then leave to air dry (“for about 10 minutes on a cloth”). Pham then transfers the dry beansprouts to a container lined with a cloth, covers them with another cloth and seals. “It looks tedious, it sounds tedious, but that should buy you at least three days.”
Another way to garner more time is to prep and freeze them, says Kwoklyn Wan, author of The Complete Chinese Takeaway Cookbook. “Give them a quick stir-fry with a bit of oil, season with salt and soy, then pop them in a container and freeze.” That way, they’ll be ready to go the next time you do actually fancy a stir-fry – no new bag required.
As the weather cools, another easy solution is to use beansprouts to top soups. “They’re amazing as a filler,” says Pham, who often deploys them for a late-night pot noodle. “The heat from the broth par-cooks them, so you still get that crunch and sprout flavour. Chuck in some spring onion and coriander, too, and … gourmet.”
Excess beansprouts could also be pickled, Wan adds, and eaten with equally warming bowls of noodles or rice dishes. “Put them in a bowl, pour over boiling water, leave for 20 seconds, then drain and rinse the beansprouts under cold water.” Wan then adds a little vinegar, salt, sugar, fish sauce, maybe soy, maybe chillies. “They’ll last for a good seven days in the fridge.” Pham, too, is a fan of pickling, but her method involves putting the beansprouts in a jar, adding one part each of sugar and salt, two parts vinegar and enough water to cover them. “Pour that all into a pot, heat, then pour the vegetables and vinegar solution back into the jar.” Adjust the seasoning to taste, then seal and chill overnight, ready to serve with pork or to stuff inside sandwiches.
Beansprouts are also at home in spring rolls and lettuce wraps, or incorporated into salads, which is Pranee Laurillard’s preferred option. The author of Giggling Squid Cookbook (out November 3rd) says: “You can transform whatever greens you have into something fancier by simply adding beansprouts, a teaspoon of sesame oil, a squeeze of lime and teaspoon of miso.” Pham, meanwhile, uses the Vietnamese classic nuoc mam chua dipping sauce (fish sauce, garlic, chilli, lime, rice vinegar) to dress watercress, rocket, cucumber, tomatoes and (thoroughly washed) beansprouts. “They’ll soak up all that sauce but stay really fresh.”
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