Not so long ago edamame, fresh soya beans, not the branch, were little known outside of their traditional home in Asia. (ln China they are called mao dou, hairy bean). How that has changed. Edamame has now entered the English language and this addictive little legume is on its way to being as familiar to the wider world as ramen.
Glycine maximus has been cultivated for at least 3,000 years in China. Brought to Japan in the Jomon Period, it has, of course, long been a staple providing much needed protein in tofu. With more protein than any other plant - over 35 percent -, a perfect mix of amino acids, a rich supply of oil, vitamin A and calcium, it is a phenomenal source of nutrition.
Engelbert Kaempfer, the German botanist, brought seeds to Europe in 1692, but despite efforts to promote it as a crop plant little happened until the Second World War, when filler or meat extender was needed for troops. America now produces about half the world's soya beans but, overwhelmingly, it is for animal feed or processed foods. One reason for the slow uptake is, of course, that soya beans are largely indigestible in the natural state. This is why tofu, miso and natto are so ingenious.
Eda or sora mame (beans in the pod), however, are harvested before maturing fully and so are sweeter and more easily digested than the fully ripened beans. They also come from specially bred varieties. Between early summer and November, edamame is in the market. Though perfect as a snack with beer, it is also a wonderful ingredient that can be used for a variety of dishes, adding color and that delicate nutty taste. Here are a few suggestions.
There are a number of theories on the perfect way to cook edamame. Here is one simple method. Using quality salt for the seasoning will make a big difference.
- Wash the edamame briefly. Now scatter salt generously over the pods and rub in. Let them sit for 10 minutes. This will improve the color.
- Bring a pan with plenty of water to the boil and toss in the salted pods. Cook for 5-10 minutes. Check a few edamame to see if they are done. They should still be slightly al dente.
- When done drain them. For best results cool quickly with a fan. lf serving as a snack, season the whole pods with salt otherwise use as required in the recipe.