Each night in my tiny studio apartment, I wipe the kitchen counters, clear the sink of any last unwashed dishes, and often set the coffee pot for the next morning. Then I stand back and ask myself: What needs soaking?
If that sounds a little weird, I want you to imagine your life as a regular soaker. Meals come together in the blink of an eye. There's fresh milk in the fridge every day of the week; digestive distress is a thing of the past. I'm only exaggerating a little. I promise you all these things and more. All you need is a decent soaking routine.
So what should you soak? Whether you're a seasoned soaker or a novice, here are three items to consider soaking each night before heading to bed, all of which you can keep in a cool, dry pantry.
1. Nuts and Seeds
If you've ever made your own non-dairy milk, this one should come as no surprise. Soaking nuts and seeds for several hours beforehand not only takes some of the stress off of your blender, but it also results in a creamier milk. Presoak before you to go bed, and you'll be ready to make non-dairy milks and creams first thing in the morning.
You can cut the cooking time of many grains in half with an overnight soak. This trick comes in especially handy for slow-cooking grains, like barley or Kamut. And if you want to swap brown rice for white in a one-pot recipe, you'll need to soak it first to get it down to a comparable cooking time. Pulverizing soaked grains in a blender is also a first step to making a gluten-free batter, like the one Sarah Britton, of blog My New Roots, uses for her revolutionary pancakes.
As with grains, soaking your beans, lentils, and other pulses reduces their cooking time and helps to ensure they cook evenly, although some flavor may be lost in the soaking process. Even a quick soak in hot water goes a long way to improve the consistency of a cooked bean. But giving legumes an extra-long soak has an added benefit: it helps to stave off digestive distress. Just be sure to rinse them before cooking, as it's the indigestible sugars released in the soaking water that can cause you the most, erm, discomfort.
Bonus Points: A Nutrient Boost?
Some nutritionists believe that soaking nuts, grains, and legumes before eating them improves the likelihood that you'll absorb more of their nutrients. Soaking kickstarts the germination process, releasing some of the phytic acid that keeps us from absorbing some vitamins and minerals. (This process is commonly called "activation," and fancy-health-food types like Gwyneth Paltrow and Amanda Chantal Bacon are all over it.)
If you're eating a fairly balanced diet, you're likely getting plenty of the good stuff without any extra steps. But if a nutrient boost is a fringe benefit of having dinner on the table sooner or nut milk straight from the source, I'll certainly take it. Just one more reason not to skip the nightly soak.