Alfalfa sprouts are indecently easy to grow. You need (A) a large jam-jar with a heavily perforated lid, and (B) maybe a level tablespoonful of alfalfa seeds. Tip B into A; add water, leave to soak overnight. Next day, drain through perforated lid; add more water; sluice around a bit; drain off water again. Leave. Repeat rinse-drain cycle daily. After surprisingly few days (the exact time depends on the weather), the jam-jar will be full of alfalfa sprouts. They are a wonderful salad ingredient/ garnish, but they can also be used to make exercise mats. 

Jam jar. Well, no, it's not actually a real jam jar. It's a fancy sprout-growing tunnel that Frances already had when I met her in 1981. She had, after all, been living in California for almost 20 years. If you use a conventional screw-on lid on a jar, work from the inside when you punch the ventilation holes so that the sprouts don't catch on the jaggedy bits. Or do as we do: use a preserving jar, but replace the glass with (well-washed) plastic mesh.  

Probably not real exercise mats. That might be a bit extravagant, as well as short lived, though probably refreshingly fragrant. Also, you'd need a really big jam-jar. But we are all (or mostly) familiar with the way that gymnasiums have polished wooden floors, and with how exercise mats insulate us from both the temperature and the sheer hardness of the wood. 

With an egg or two and some alfalfa sprouts, you can however make something that looks very like an exercise mat. It's a little greasier (depends on how old the exercise mat is) but a lot more edible; or at least, I assume it is, though I have never tried to eat an exercise mat. I won't say that is is the Food of the Gods, but it does taste very good as long as you remember to add rather more salt than seems reasonable: unsalted, it really is pretty bland. A dash of sriracha or other hot sauce does no harm, either. 

Exercise mats are fairly low in calories, long on roughage (there's not a lot else in an alfalfa sprout, apart from water), reasonably nutritious and surprisingly sustaining. By the last I mean that you won't feel hungry for quite a while after you've eaten one.  They're also absurdly cheap. A packet of seeds for sprouting may seem expensive – I pay around 5€, call it £4 or $6 for Super-de-Luxe Organic –  but you use such a tiny quantity that it's pennies per batch of sprouts. I think it's about 2-3€ for a small pack of commercially grown sprouts (when you can find them) and you get 10-20 batches of a similar size from a packet of seeds. Exercise mats (also known as bath mats) are something I make at least once whenever I sprout some alfalfa seeds. 

Exercise mat at the mixing stage, Egg; alfalfa sprouts; and don't forget the salt (and pepper).

Just as alfalfa sprouts are indecently easy to grow, exercise mats are absurdly easy to cook. Remember to heat a plate up first. Then take a handful of sprouts. Place in a bowl. Mix with one egg and a large pinch of salt; pepper, too. Proportions are utterly unimportant: you can make them much eggier (especially if you use two eggs) or much sproutier. Here's a summary of the ingredients:

Alfalfa sprouts


Pepper, salt

Oil or butter for frying

Whatever proportions you choose, fry in butter or olive oil. You don't need much. Or try other oils: nut, sesame. Turn with a spatula, fish slice or palette knife and cook the other side briefly: the sprouts are a very good insulator, so it's easy to undercook the centre: this is why two eggs is the absolute maximum, and you need to be light on the sprouts at that. On the other hand, it's also quite easy to overdo the whole thing so that it gets a bit leathery. It's still just as nutritious and sustaining: it just doesn't taste quite as good. In any case it's a matter of your frying pan, your stove and above all your preferences. When cooked, tip it out onto a hot plate; add a dash of hot sauce if you like; and (probably) more salt. Eat. 

Cook and eat. Actually it's a good idea to use a heavier non-stick pan, or better still a well seasoned cast iron frying pan, but this one was quite pretty and I'd recently bought it (for 1€) at a vide-grenier.  

You can drink anything with exercise mats, including water. Sparkling wine is good. So is kir. Coffee and tea are OK too: Frances recommends tea. I don't know because I don't drink either: I was the first of my generation, and my parents (aged 23 and 22 – they met when they were 15 and 14 and were married at 21 and 20) worried about giving tea or coffee to “the baby”. By the time I was 2 or 3 and they thought I was old enough, I didn't like either, and have never seen any reason to revise my opinion, except for Greek/ Turkish coffee and Tibetan tea. Which is irrelevant, but rounds the story off. Most things in our lives happen by accident, and I didn't even encounter alfalfa sprouts until I met Frances in California in 1981. 

Actually there is one more thought. You can grow mung/ moong bean sprouts the same way (great in a stir fry) and black radish sprouts are an interesting change from alfalfa. Just don't try broccoli sprouts. The seeds are available in the health food stores, but they're disgusting when sprouted.

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Words and pictures copyright (c) Roger Hicks 2018.