Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why Use Pepper When
You've Got Spicy Sprouts?

To the wealth of oft-repeated sayings, such as "The apple falls not far from the tree," or, "Like father, like son," allow me to emend the following adages:

"Like veggie, like sprout."

"The sprout sprouts close to the root."

Do you recognize the sprouts in this photo? Don't worry, I won't make you take another quiz so soon after the last one: arugula. I've had arugula sprouts in the past (I must have), but never have I been so struck by how strongly these babies taste like fully grown, spicy arugula leaves.

Though not adored by all, sprouts are often used to freshen up sandwiches or garnish salads with watery flair. However, they often make more of a complementary visual and textural impact than adding any remarkable taste element. If the usual alfalfa sprouts are like extras, then these arugula sprouts bear the distinctive flavor of character actors, the Kevin Spacey of vegetables (before he turned into a leading man).

I paid what seemed like a fairly expensive R$3.50 (about $2) for a box of these at the Leblon organic farmers' market in Rio. A bunch of fully grown arugula would probably have cost the same or been slightly cheaper. But a small handful of these heart-shaped babies contains a surprising amount of spicy crispness, and I found that the lot lasted me for a week and seemed well worth the price after all. I sprinkled them on salads, on soups, and most memorably, atop a bowl of bow-tie pasta tossed with fresh pesto, parmesan, garlic, and halved cherry tomatoes.

Just as spicy, though less delicate than the arugula kids, are radish sprouts.

Interestingly, but logically, I suppose, radish sprouts compare to arugula sprouts in similar ways that radishes are like and unlike arugula. Both are spicy vegetables, but radishes have a more pronounced bite and crunch. They don't take a back seat to other vegetables on the plate as willingly, and the same goes for their mini-me's. Radish sprouts are thicker and harder to chew than arugula sprouts, and bear the delicate yet pronounced signature hot pink tones of the radish. Still, I used radish sprouts in pretty much the same way as the arugula—sprinkling them on top of whatever dish could benefit from a spicy-fresh finish and sometimes just plopping them directly into my mouth.

While both kinds of sprouts germinate above-ground, it's funny to think how differently their adult versions develop. While the arugula spreads its leaves in the rays of the sun, the radish blooms its secret self underground like a pale, pink, or purple mole, as this pleasing time-lapse video reminds us:

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