Edamame, the soybean you can eat
There weren’t many of them. Maybe six or eight pods in the tiny saucer in front of me. The setting (my first-ever sushi restaurant) and the simple, elegant Japanese porcelain saucer seemed exotic, but when I opened the bright green pods and popped the even brighter beans into my mouth, the flavor was distinctive, yet deliciously similar to the limas, peas and other fresh shell beans I’d been shelling and eating for years.
Edamame. Midwesterners have been surrounded by soybean fields for years, but it’s only recently that most of us have encountered them at the table while they’re still green, before they begin hardening and drying. Edamame might be new to Westerners, but in Asia they’ve been eating them for thousands of years. Technically, all soybeans are edamame, but the types of soybeans eaten as such have been developed specially to be eaten green.
Old Capitol Farmers Market vendor John Hamilton says he harvests them differently from other types of beans, which can be picked from the plants for several weeks: “They ripen all at once, so we just uproot the bushes and pluck off the beans.”
Edamame are as nutritious as they are delicious, a good source of complete protein, fiber, essential omega 3 fatty acids; and rich in calcium, iron, zinc, antioxidants, and B and K vitamins. In the pods, they’re a fun, easily made, and easy-to-eat snack that requires minimal preparation. Kids love them; keeping a bowlful in the fridge is a wonderful alternative for kids (and adults) to chips or other unwholesome munchies.
These days frozen edamame, shelled and in the pod, can be found at Food Fantasies, Little World Market and in many local groceries. And they make sporadic appearances at local farmers markets. Hamilton’s crop is finished for the year, because of the excessive heat. But Andy Heck and Garrick Veenstra should have some still available, with more to come next month. Local fresh edamame are usually smaller than their frozen counterparts, but are especially flavorful.
Great as edamame are for snacking, they have many other uses. Add some to a stir-fry, or in a salad. And don’t limit them to Asian dishes – they’re great in things ranging from pasta sauce to pilaf to a purée for bruschetta.
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Asian edamame dip
- 2 c. cooked, shelled edamame
- 1/4 c. diced onion or shallot
- 1/2 c. tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 tsp. minced garlic, or to taste
- 1/4 c. fresh lime juice
- 1 T. Thai green curry paste, or more or less to taste
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 5 T. peanut, canola, or other neutral vegetable oil.
Place all ingredients except the oil into a food processor bowl. Process for 15 seconds, scrape down the sides, and process for another 15 seconds. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth. Adjust the seasoning. Serve with chips or crackers (rice crackers are especially good) or as a filling for wontons. Keeps, refrigerated, for about a week
Edamame and wild rice pilaf
- 1 bunch scallions
- 3/4 c. wild rice
- 1/3 c. minced shallots or onions
- 3 T. unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. dry white wine or vermouth
- 3 c. unsalted or low sodium chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 T. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 c. cooked shelled edamame
- 1/2 c. lightly toasted hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds
Thinly slice the white and green parts of the scallions and set the green parts aside. Melt the butter in a heavy pan with a close-fitting lid over medium heat. Add the shallots and the white parts of the scallions and sauté until softened and lightly browned. Add the rice and sauté for a few minutes more.
Increase the heat to high and add the wine, stock, salt and thyme. Let come to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat until the mixture barely simmers. Cover and cook for 40-45 minutes, or until rice is cooked through but not mushy. If the rice is done and there is still liquid in the pan, drain the rice, return the liquid to the pan, and reduce to a glaze. Return the rice to the pan and proceed.
Stir in the edamame and heat through. Add pepper to taste and check the seasoning. Just before serving, stir in half the reserved scallion greens and half the nuts. Sprinkle the remaining scallion greens and nuts over the top and serve. Serves 6.
with fresh herbs and Asiago
- 2 c. cooked, shelled edamame
- 3/4 - 1 c. finely grated aged Asiago cheese, plus extra for garnish
- 1/3 c. loosely packed mint or basil leaves, or a combination
- 1 tsp. minced garlic, or more or less to taste
- 1 tsp. – 1 T. white wine vinegar, OR white wine Worcestershire, OR lemon juice
- 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Mint or basil sprigs or thinly slivered leaves for garnish, optional
Combine 1 1/2 c. of the edamame, the cheese, herbs, garlic, and 1 tsp. of the vinegar/white wine Worcestershire/lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Alternatively you could mash the ingredients with a potato masher, in which case you should mince the herb leaves (measure BEFORE mincing). Add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until the mixture is puréed, but still has some texture to it.
Add the remaining edamame and pulse a few times until they are incorporated but just very coarsely chopped.
Season to taste with the salt and pepper, and add a little more vinegar/white wine Worcestershire/lemon juice if desired.
To make crostini: Grill or toast slices of good quality baguette, country or sourdough bread lightly on both sides. Spread a thick layer of the mixture on the slices, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, shaved or grated Asiago, and slivered herb leaves if desired. The number of crostini will depend on the size of the bread slices
Alternatively, mound the mixture on a plate and garnish with herb sprigs around the base, and drizzle with a little more olive oil and Asiago shavings or gratings and slivered mint/basil leaves. Serve with crackers, thin slices of fresh or toasted bread, or Belgian endive leaves. Makes about 3 c.
Green soybeans with garlic
To cook fresh edamame in the shell:
Bring water to a boil over high heat. It should be enough to cover the pods and at least an inch or two over the top. When the water comes to a boil, add salt, about 1 T. per quart. Add the edamame. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a low boil so that the water doesn’t spill over the sides. Cook for at least five minutes, or until the beans (inside the pods) are tender, but not mushy, then drain. Cooking time will depend on size.
- 1 lb. unshelled edamame, frozen or fresh
- 1/4 c. naturally brewed soy sauce, such as Kikkoman
- 1/4 c. seasoned rice wine vinegar
- 2 to 4 garlic cloves, coarsely minced or thinly sliced
In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and garlic. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until the garlic has completely softened and the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Cook frozen edamame according to package instructions; see above for fresh. Immediately after draining, pour the garlic mixture over them and toss to combine. Periodically stir until the edamame have come to room temperature. Serve with an empty bowl alongside to hold the pods. Napkins are a good idea, too! Leftovers can be refrigerated. They’ll be good when cold, but more flavorful if at room temperature.
Serves 4 or more as a snack or appetizer