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Originally published October 8, 2012 at 10:00 PM | Page modified October 8, 2012 at 10:05 PM

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Edamame snacks worth their salt

How to Cook Everything: Edamame, young, green soybeans still in the pod, are cheap, easy to cook, and there are ways to use them that go beyond the dead simple act of boiling and salting. Recipe: Edamame in the Shell

The New York Times

Video

Easy Edamame: Mark Bittman shows how to prepare edamame in a New York Times video at http://www.nytimes.com/video/2012/10/01/dining/100000001814132/easy-edamame.html#100000001814132
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A faster, better way to cook edamame in the shell: Salt the boiling water heavily... MORE
Funny to hear someone call soybeans "exotic." I grew up with a whole field... MORE

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Not long ago, edamame — the young, green, mostly still-in-the-pod soybeans — were exotic: new, fresh and unusual. A little treat to begin a meal at a Japanese restaurant, the equivalent of olives, or even bread and olive oil.

Incredibly, for almost everyone I know, that is the way they remain. Yet tucked in the freezer case of most supermarkets, at least here in the Northeast, edamame are as common as peas and carrots, packed in 12-ounce or 1-pound plastic bags and sold cheap.

So cheap that for four or five bucks you can buy a pound of organic edamame, and for considerably less than that, a pound of nonorganic. Since I figure you're getting a quarter-pound or less when you order them at a restaurant, and paying (no doubt) up to seven bucks per serving, this alone should be an incentive to buy a bag.

The cooking, at least for the style in which they're served in restaurants, is along the lines of "duh." Boil, drain, salt, serve. That's it. Keep the cooking time short and use coarse salt. I can think of no other tricks.

While there are other things that can be done with edamame (stand by), I wanted first to point out that they are simply shell beans. Thus any bean or legume you buy in its shell can be treated in precisely the same way.

This no doubt was known to every American with a garden 100 years ago, but I just figured it out myself last summer, when I bought handfuls of black beans, scarlet runners, beans whose names I didn't know, and threw them into pots of boiling salted water. Some took quite a while to become tender (an hour, even), but all, once they had reached that stage, made great snacks when served with salt.

(It's worth pointing out here that the peanut is a legume, and that boiled raw peanuts in the shell, a tradition in Charleston, S.C., and elsewhere, are an acquired and addictive taste. Use a ton of salt in the water, and depending on the freshness of the peanut — the season for fresh peanuts is fast approaching — beware that you may have to boil them for well over an hour. It's worth it. Eat hot.)

There are ways to use edamame that go beyond the dead simple. One is to simply drizzle them with good soy sauce, a bit of lemon or sesame oil, or all three, and serve as usual.

Another is to remove them from the pods after cooking and cooling, a pretty quick process, and sauté them in olive or peanut oil, maybe mixed with a little sesame, just until they begin to color a bit. Drizzle those with soy at the last minute. Another good drizzle is a tablespoon of peanut oil heated with a teaspoon of sesame oil just to the smoking point. For stand-up eating, you can also just remove the edamame from their shells, sprinkle with salt and serve with toothpicks.

Other ideas, all of which are essentially garnishes to be used alone or in combination with the above treatments (these are all good whether the beans are still in or taken out of their shells):

• Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet until they pop, and sprinkle them over the top.

• Add a few chiles or a squeeze of Sriracha to the heating oil and drizzle that.

• Use a few drops of rice vinegar in place of lemon juice.

• Toast nori (dry, in the oven or a skillet) and crumble that over the beans; mix and serve quickly.

• Chop peanuts or walnuts (toast first if necessary, until lightly browned) and sprinkle on top.

• Sweat a little minced ginger or garlic, or both, in peanut oil and toss with the cooked beans.

• Grate lemon zest over all.

• Top with chili powder, curry powder, pimenton (smoked paprika), five-spice powder or, perhaps best, shichimi (the Japanese spice mix also called togarashi).

The shelled edamame can also be puréed and served as a spread, but since you can do that with virtually any vegetable, that's probably the subject of another column. This should keep you busy for a while.

EDAMAME IN THE SHELL

Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Salt

1 pound fresh or frozen edamame in their pods

Black pepper, to taste

1. To boil: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously. Add the edamame, return to a boil and cook until bright green, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain.

To microwave: Put the edamame in a microwave-safe dish with ¼ cup water and a pinch of salt, cover partly and microwave on high until bright green, 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your microwave power.

2. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and a little or a lot of black pepper. Toss and serve hot, warm or chilled with an empty bowl on the side for the pods.

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