Fresh broccoli sprouts are a staple food in my kitchen, especially in the winter when it’s the main home-grown vegetable crop we’ve managed to keep in season. Sprouting is one of the simplest ways to grow your own fresh food, especially for people limited by their climate, space constraints, or urban captivity. You don’t need access to the outdoors or even a sunny windowsill, because seeds are designed by nature to push their own way through dirt and set sail with their first leaves before they can start catching solar energy to power their growth.
By the time they reach that point, these tiny plants are brimming with glucosinolates, the precursors to isothiocyanates, which are plant defense compounds known for their hormetic anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic impact on the humans who eat them. This story mirrors the one about garlic and allicin – again, tissue damage (the plant’s sense that it is being eaten!) is a trigger for the conversion of a stable storage molecule into a reactive defense molecule. In the case of broccoli sprouts, myrosinase is the enzyme that converts glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. For the same reason we chop garlic before cooking to maximize its potency, it is also optimal to break down broccoli sprouts. My favorite way is pesto.
In the absence of basil this winter, I let my sprouts play its part in a pesto sauce featuring olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and hemp seeds. The young sprouts don’t have much chlorophyll and would make a pale pesto on their own, so I add spinach for extra leafy-green color.
The result is a new favorite in my house – it’s rich, powerful, garlicky, salty and you might find yourself pulling your jar out of the fridge at every meal. On sandwiches. Spread on toast, with or without avocado. With grilled meats. Swirled into soups. With turkey meatballs. As a killer garlic bread spread. Tangled with pasta or spaghetti squash. On pizza. Tossed with roasted or grilled vegetables or potatoes. Anywhere and everywhere, in my kitchen!
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Broccoli Sprout Pesto
This batch size yields about 1 cup pesto sauce and fits in a mini-size 3.5 cup capacity food processor.Nutrition Information (average values, products can vary) for 1 tablespoon: 50 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugars, 1 g protein.
In a food processor, first add the garlic cloves and pulse until minced. Add the broccoli sprouts and pulse again to chop the sprouts. Add the hemp seeds, Parmesan cheese, salt, optional red pepper flakes and spinach leaves, and pulse until they are partially chopped. Then drizzle in the olive oil and blend until smooth. Store pesto in the refrigerator and use within 4 days, or freeze for long term storage.