The first time I brought life into this world?
I was 10 years old.
For children in classrooms across America, it was a rite of passage to sprout a dried lima bean. Each child was provided a plastic ziplock bag, paper towel, lima bean and water. We were taught to “wake up” the bean by re-hydrating it in water, keep it moist with a damp paper towel, and “feed” it with sunlight. Once the foot of a root peeked out, I was a proud momma.
Taking an otherwise forgotten dried bean and coaxing it to life was my first realization that nature’s power was a gift to cherish.
20 years later, I was raising an army of sorghum seeds in the kitchen.
At Room4Dessert Ubud, I worked with a talented and curious baker, Weber. He was constantly testing a wide range of breads and pastries in the kitchen. Taking into account the unstable weather conditions and varying quality of ingredients accessible in Bali, his quest to produce baked goods to the standard of his New York work experience was admirable.
One day Weber was developing a gluten-free bread and began to sprout sorghum seeds. The resulting flour, after drying, grinding and sifting the germinated seeds, was incredibly fine and smooth, unlike other non-wheat flour alternatives, like nut flour. His first test with the sprouted sorghum flour was great—a decent crust and crumb with a nut-like flavor and texture similar to bread containing gluten. I considered it a success.
Why sprout in the first place? The process reveals a more complex flavor profile and increased nutritional content. When sprouted—grains, legumes and nuts—the starch begins to break down and makes them easier to digest. And as the starch breaks down into simple sugars, more distinctive flavors arise. At the same time, sprouting releases otherwise dormant vitamins and nutrients within. So why not eat more sprouts and make baked goods from them?
The original sorghum cake recipe is from my visit to Nusa Tenggara Timur, otherwise known as Flores, and the farm of Maria Loretha and her husband, whom I previously referenced in my bose recipe.
Maria is a legend within the Indonesian food industry and social entrepreneurial sector. Without having previous experience in agriculture, she identified a problem and developed a solution to assist neglected smallholder farmers and an overlooked community in East Flores.
Flores’ climate contradicts the notion that Indonesia is comprised entirely of lush rainforest. The weather is arid and hot with an extended dry season that lasts roughly seven months in a year. This corresponds with the agricultural challenges smallholder farmers face in the region. Prize crops like rice and corn that flourish elsewhere yield less with the same effort. There is also no assistance from the government to identify crops that could grow well. With these significant disadvantages, Floresian farmers are impoverished in finance and health.
In 1997, Maria and her husband left Java to become farmers in his kampung in East Flores. One day, they had a meal at a fellow farmer’s house and instead of rice, the host served a grain Maria did not recognize. Apa itu? Sorghum. It was delicious, flavorful and light—a great substitute for rice. Upon further research, she discovered sorghum grew well in drought-like conditions and sub-standard soil. Furthermore, one crop of sorghum can be harvested three to four times with one planting, unlike rice and corn, that produce only one harvest.
Maria and her husband began to cultivate sorghum and encouraged other farmers to as well. It was a difficult transition—altering behavior is never easy—but when they saw how it flourished on Maria’s farm, they were persuaded. Success was apparent. In a year when the rice crop failed because of the weather, sorghum thrived.
However, Maria was not interested in selling the sorghum to food suppliers or restaurants. Her objective was to feed the community, because malnutrition was too common from lack of food supply and knowledge. White rice, the preferred starch, contributed little nutrition to the diet. Sorghum, on the other hand, contains protein, fiber, potassium, calcium, iron and much more. Over time, because sorghum was available and cheap, it gradually replaced rice at meals and the community grew to enjoy it. Children were also asked to bring a cup of sorghum to school every day, which was cooked and served, and they reported staying full longer and better able to concentrate. Maria allowed sorghum to be sold only when the village was fed.
As news spread and food suppliers placed orders, production increased and sorghum is now the source of financial stability and opportunity in their village. Because of Maria’s continued efforts, it has become the newest crop to gain traction in the country’s agricultural system. And now, everyone calls her Mama Sorghum.
When I arrived at the farm, we gathered under a tree by their house to chat before taking a tour of the land. Being true, hospitable Indonesians, refreshments were provided, and that is when I met this cake.
It is light on the tongue but dense with a nutty flavor, and is perfect as an afternoon snack with tea or coffee. The texture of sorghum flour is similar to pastry flour, and would be a good substitute in cake recipes or other delicate biscuits and sponges.
To sprout sorghum: Take 300g of sorghum and soak overnight in water. Next day, drain the sorghum and lay the grains out in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with a damp towel. Keep in a cool area and away from direct sunlight; make sure to keep the towel damp. Depending on the climate, the grains will sprout between 48 to 72 hours. Once germinated, dehydrate the sorghum in the oven at 70ºC. When dry, blend in a food processor and sift. Store the flour in a cool, dry place until ready for use.