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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.
SIMPLE EDAMAME GOHAN
For extra color and flavor try adding edamame to a risotto, potato salad or, as in this recipe, plain old rice. Easy but fantastic.
2 cups rice
180g podded edamame, cooked 1 tbls sake
1 tsp salt
SEASONED EDAMAME GOHAN
This dish is nothing short of inspired. If carrot leaves cannot be found, substitute shungiku or some other fragrant leaf. Less than a teaspoon of sake and soy sauce and one heaped teaspoon of sesame seeds should do. Go easy initially as success: depends on the balance of flavors.
2 cups rice
Carrot leaves, small bunch
50g edamame, cooked
1 umeboshi, flesh chopped finely
Soy sauce, a little
Sake, a little
Irigoma sesame seeds