What is there to know about cooking bean sprouts? Aren’t they one of the simplest. vegetables to handle? Yes they are, and there’s no problem at all if you like a good stir-fry. That’s always promoted as the way to cook them, even the only way. Unfortunately, it’s not my favourite form of cooking, though I do like bean sprouts and value them as particularly useful for vegetarians. I know that eating them raw in a salad is sometimes recommended as an alternative to a stir fry. That’s fine if there is a truly fresh supply to hand but I’m thinking of the plastic bags of bean sprouts you find in supermarkets, sometimes looking, it has to be said, a little jaded. This, I suppose, is how most of us buy them nowadays.
They are always given a very short use-by date and this should be observed because bean sprouts which add nutrition, crunchiness and lightness to a meal can also carry harmful bacteria. Even so, they are perfectly safe to eat if a few simple precautions are taken. Don’t leave them for long sitting around in their plastic bag. Tip them into a colander and rinse under running cold water. I then leave them to soak for a few minutes. In terms of freshness, they are noticeably and immediately transformed. Drain well and however you cook them make sure they are heated through.
Here is how I like to cook them. Bean sprouts need added flavour and I’ve maintained some of the traditional Chinese or Asian flavours that are so suited to them, whether fried or not:
1 bag of bean sprouts (c.400g)
½ bell pepper (yellow or orange look good here) thinly sliced
1 field mushroom, destalked, peeled, thinly slice
Toasted sesame oil
Stock (made with the cube or powder you prefer: I usually stir in a small amount of yeast extract)
Salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan put a small amount of oil of your choice - I tend to use groundnut oil - and gently fry the sliced pepper and mushroom for three or four minutes. Cover very lightly with stock and add (according to taste) salt, pepper, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil and cook for another couple of minutes. Then place the bean sprouts in the saucepan, bring to boiling point to heat through, reduce to very low, and simmer for about ten minutes stirring or shaking occasionally. You may need to add a little more stock, but bean sprouts consist mainly of water, so be careful not to use too much liquid. You want to keep them crisp and fresh. Just before serving I usually add some more toasted sesame oil and, perhaps another dash of soy sauce.
Cooked in this way they are remarkably versatile and can be used as any other side vegetable. Of course they go famously well with rice. But they are also good with roast or mashed potatoes, green beans or peas; and vegetarian frankfurters, sausages or burgers.