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Cooking from the World Pantry: Edamame

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Edamame
Photo by: Maria Zizka

Edamame are the immature green pea pods of the soybean plant (Glycine max). They are considered immature because the pods are plucked from the stem when the beans inside are still sweet and tender. If left to mature, the beans become starchy. The window of time for harvesting is quite narrow: ideally you want the beans to grow to the largest possible size—fully formed and swollen so they touch each other within their pods—but you don’t want the beans to over-ripen at all. A yellow pod is a sure sign that it’s already too late, the edamame is past its prime.

The moment the pods are cut from the stem, they begin to lose their nutritional value and buttery, mild nutty flavor. Unless you live less than a day’s distance from an edamame farmer, consider purchasing frozen edamame in their pods. No need to turn your nose up at the thought of frozen edamame. The beans freeze remarkably well and can be thawed (or cooked) in a matter of minutes.

The fuzzy pod shells are too fibrous to eat, but the beans within can be shucked and added to a stir-fry, fried rice, a steaming bowl of noodles, a cold noodle salad, and much more. Edamame has a long history in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cuisines, so I usually look to the flavors and ingredients of those places for inspiration. Sesame seeds make an interesting addition because they have their own nutty flavor, scallions and cilantro highlight the fresh, green flavor of edamame, and a hint of chile pepper helps to add dimensionality.

How do you like to eat edamame? I’ve always enjoyed the way it is served at sushi restaurants, simply boiled and placed on the table as a communal first course. I love the way everyone reaches in and shares, popping beans directly into their mouths. The following recipe is one way to recreate that experience at home.

Edamame Sautéed in the Pod with Miso and Garlic

Choose any kind of miso paste that you enjoy. (As a rule of thumb, the darker the color, the more pungent it will taste.) If you don’t have any miso on hand, try substituting 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.

Serves 4 as an appetizer

10 ounces fresh or frozen edamame in their pods
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon white, yellow, or red miso paste
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 dried chile de árbol
1 teaspoon soy sauce, plus more as needed
Toasted sesame seeds, for sprinkling (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the edamame until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in the vegetable oil and sesame oil, then add the miso, garlic, and chile. Cook, stirring constantly to break up the miso, until the garlic just barely begins to brown. Mix in the edamame and soy sauce and cook for another minute. Taste and add more soy sauce if you’d like the edamame to be saltier. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve, with an empty bowl alongside for tossing the shucked pods.

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