Edamame: They’re Fuzzy

For all that I adore Asian foods and teach Asian cooking, I don’t often cook or eat Japanese food.

I am not quite certain why that is–I do like most Japanese foods, but I simply do not have as much experience with them, nor have I made a large study of them over the years, as I have with Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisnes.

Sushi is divine, and miso soup is comforting.

However, if I were to choose a single Japanese dish to call my favorite, it would have to be boiled edamame with salt and lemon.

I love it even better than tuna or salmon sashimi; for anyone who knows me and has eaten sushi with me, this admission should speak volumes. I have often stated, after having gobbled down an immoderate amount of raw salmon, that I hope in my next life I come back as a grizzly bear, so that I can gorge myself on fresh raw salmon caught between my own paws.

The fact that I like edamame even better than the king of fish is amazing.

For those who have never had them, edamame are fresh soybeans. They come in wiry, tough pods that are covered in russet fuzz, with one to three beans packed tightly in their unappetizing jackets.

They are eaten as appetizers in sushi bars, simply boiled and salted, the more coarse salt the better, where edamame serve the same function that peanuts do in American bars–they are meant to make the patron thirsty, so that more alcohol is consumed.

One sushi bar I have been to throws lemon peel into the boiling water so that the pods and beans are gently infused with lemon oil, adding just a hint of complexity to the utterly sublime simplicity of the classic Japanese summer dish. I also like to squeeze fresh lemon juice over the pods before eating them; the citrus tang brings out the nutty flavor of the verdant beans.

I had never cooked them before, but when I found out that my CSA harvested some on Saturday, of course I had to take some. Canaan Hills Farms also had freshly slaughtered chicken, so I determined to pair the edamame with chicken yakitori (more on that tomorrow) and fresh grilled corn on the cob for an easy summer supper.

Of course, since I had never cooked them, I had to read up on them, so I dragged out the Japanese cookbook Morganna picked out for me when she was only eleven, The Japanese Kitchen: 250 Recipes in a Traditional Spirit, by Hiroko Shimbo, and started reading. Hiroko swore that one could remove the five o’clock shadow from the edamame pods by rubbing them between your palms with coarse salt. I had kosher salt in the kitchen, and so decided to give it go, but I found, that unless one is willing to give each pod individual attention, the salt thing doesn’t do much in the de-fuzzing arena.

Some fuzz was removed, to be certain, as evidenced by the amount I rinsed down the drain before popping them into the boiling water, but nowhere near all of it was gone. A majority of the wee beans still had that rakish, unshaven look after my ministrations, such that I wondered what the point of wasting the salt had been.

More fuzz was removed by the boiling process itself, than by the rubbing, unless it was a combination of the two actions which resulted in the fur removal. Zak helpfully suggested Nair, however, I declined to attempt such an experiment.

After rubbing the pods with salt, the rest of the cooking operation was simplicity itself. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, toss in the edamame (You can add a lemon slice or some lemon zest or peel to the cooking water), and boil for 3-5 minutes. I opted for cooking them for 4 minutes, but upon tasting them, should have gone for 5 or 6; they were just a shade too crunchy for my taste.

When the timer goes off, drain them and rinse them in hot water, then pour them onto a baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels, or a cotton kitchen towel, to dry. Once they are dry, sprinkle liberal amounts of coarse salt over them, and toss them.

And so, for those who have never had edamame–I bet you are wondering how one eats them?

This is the fun part.

You pick them up with your fingers and bring them close to your lips, then squeeze gently from the bottom of the pod to pop the plump beans into your mouth. Or, you can be refined and use chopsticks, and instead of popping them into your mouth, use your teeth to scrape them free of the pods. If you use the chopsticks method, however, know that you will be dealing with the fuzz factor.

I say dive in with your fingers and have fun with it. Make a game of it, and while you are playing with your food, remember that edamame are not only a hoot to eat, but are nutritional powerhouses that are filled with anti-oxidants, protein, A and B vitamins and a reasonable amount of vitamin C.

It is rare for a food item to taste good, be fun to eat and on top of it all, be good for you–for this reason alone, I hope to find more people jumping on the edamame bandwagon and eating them as a summer treat when they come into season.

8 Comments

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  1. YUMM! I LOVE edamame!

    Something else which works great with cooking them is to add soy sauce to the water. Adds a nice subtle flavor!

    Comment by Kitarra — August 22, 2005 #

  2. I have found that my cats will eat the edamame pods after I’ve eaten the beans. They can’t eat nearly as many as I can, but I figure it provides them with some natural roughage and me with fewer pods.

    Comment by sprite — August 22, 2005 #

  3. That sounds like fun!

    I’ll be looking for them in the weird foods section of the grocery store or maybe the multi-cultural produce store.

    Something that you eat with your fingers and that goes with corn-on-the-cob would be great!

    Corn-on-the-cob season makes it easy to eat locally–the corn and tomatos come from down the street (local produce stand), the basil comes from my back yard, and the burgers are local cow (we are calling hir ‘Billie’ tentatively until I hear from the organic cow-farmer). Our grocery store labels all the produce with origin as well, using ‘Canada’ for out-of-province and ‘Ontario’ for in.

    Onward to new food adventures!

    Comment by wwjudith — August 23, 2005 #

  4. That is cool about your cats liking the pods. I will have to see if my cats like them.

    Soy sauce would work–one could also flavor the water with a bit of mirin, I suspect.

    Judith–that is great news about the grocery stores labelling your produce for origin! That will help you make your choices.

    Comment by Barbara Fisher — August 25, 2005 #

  5. I love edamame. I was living in Japan for six months and was totally addicted to the stuff. I ate it like popcorn….and of course whenever we went out for a beer at the local izakaya.

    Comment by Tara — April 30, 2006 #

  6. Edamame are most excellent!

    Comment by Barbara — May 1, 2006 #

  7. [...] Edamame: Fresh or dried, these soy beans are an awesome snack. If you like going to Japanese restaurants, you’ll probably recognize them as a common appetizer. You can buy bagged, frozen edamame and steam or boil them quickly. Or, you can buy shelled, dried soybeans, which you just pop in your mouth like peanuts! [...]

    Pingback by Top 5 Potato Chip Alternatives! | — July 18, 2011 #

  8. [...] Edamame: Fresh or dried, these soy beans are an awesome snack. If you like going to Japanese restaurants, you’ll probably recognize them as a common appetizer. You can buy bagged, frozen edamame and steam or boil them quickly. Or, you can buy shelled, dried soybeans, which you just pop in your mouth like peanuts! [...]

    Pingback by Top 5 Potato Chip Alternatives! : — August 6, 2011 #

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