Edamame. It’s a sleek, exotic name. If it were a cat it would be a large, black predator. If it were a car, you couldn’t afford it. If it were a spy, Sean Connery would play the role and introduce himself as: Mommy. Eddy Mommy.
But, edamame is none of those things my friends. It’s, well, soy beans. Not sleek. Not exotic. Not even an international spy.
Bean. Soy Bean.
It took a Japanese word to turn a pedestrian staple crop into an exotic ingredient. Soy beans are not the only trendy food to undergo this bit of rhetorical magic. Chilean Sea Bass became so popular it was overfished. Yet it is not from Chile and is not a bass, though it does come from the sea, so there’s some truth in labeling for you. The words “Chilean Sea Bass” are like a marketing sauce ladled over the Patagonian Toothfish to make it go down more sweetly.
But, I was talking about (say it with me now)…e-d-a-m-a-m-e…
Edamame and soy beans inhabit a cultural and marketing paradox in the food system. If you’re on the hunt for edamame (put a lot of breath into the vowel sounds, it’s more fun that way), you might have to look around a bit to find it. But that’s not at all true for soy beans. What is not based on corn in the contemporary U.S. processed-food diet is based on soy beans. These odd little buggers are in everything. Unlike corn, though, most people don’t know what soy beans really are. Kids don’t beg for soy beans on the cob on a hot summer day. You’ve never wrapped soy beans in foil and put them on the grill alongside steaks. Even the Texas State Fair does not offer deep-fried soy beans on a stick (although they will deep fry anything up there, so it would not surprise me).
It’s also a fun word to say, though Patagonian Toothfish raises a chuckle as well come to think of it.
Most packaged edamame that I’ve seen are already shelled, though you can find them still in the pod. Shelled, they are just about the size of things you worry your toddler will stuff up his nose. And now that you have that disturbing image in mind, let’s talk about cooking these bad boys.
They are quite versatile, providing great texture and just enough of their own flavor that you can blend them with pretty much any other flavors. From the frozen package, they will thaw quickly with just a little water run over them. They are also packed with protein rather than calories, so they add both protein and texture to an otherwise simple dish. This posting is the result of a quick stir fry with lots of onion and colorful peppers for a visual delight (helps get the kids to eat it), with shredded Napa Cabbage for bulk. In a stir fry like this, the sauce is the thing and where there is a sauce in a stir fry, you need to ready a slurry of corn starch and water to thicken the sauce once it’s done its job of flavoring every nook and cranny of the stir fry.
~1 tbsp minced ginger
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup soy sauce
A splash of rice wine vinegar
A couple splashes of apple cider vinegar
A splash of Mirin (Japanese sweet sake)
~ 1 tbsp honey
~ ¼ cup sunflower seed butter or your favorite nut butter (peanut butter is just fine, crunchy is better than smooth to this family’s taste)
A whisper of your favorite hot sauce (optional, but - deep down - you know you want to)
Mix all these ingredients together and then play with the proportions until it hits your taste. It should be sweet, savory, salty and buttery. Let it sit while you tend to the stir fry.
Edamame versus soy beans. Goes to show that we eat with more than just our senses. We eat with cultural sensibilities as well. Come on – if Chilean Sea Bass were called the Patagonian Toothfish all the way to the plate would it have been so popular it was overfished? And just how many erstwhile escargot lovers have spluttered a delicious sauce on themselves discovering the everyday name of that delicacy?