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A-Z of Vegetables: Edamame beans

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Edited by Gabriel Spreckelsen Brown, Saturday, 11 Nov 2023, 11:23

Who knew that tofu was a protein? My sister didn’t. ‘What do you mean, you didn’t realise it was a protein?’ I demanded. ‘I’ve been feeding it to you whenever I’ve cooked!’

She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I just thought it was… white stuff.’

I’m horrified that she thinks I have been serving her organic polystyrene all this time.

Most people take against tofu on the grounds that it is rubbery or tasteless. Silken tofu is even more peculiar, having the mouthfeel of wet chalk and the flavour of nothing. Poor tofu. Nobody understands that once upon a time you were a glamorous vegetable. Sorry, did I say glamorous? Pardon my exaggeration. See, soya is a bean.

Sold as ‘edamame beans’ in the UK (rather than the unappealing moniker used elsewhere in the world, ‘soybean’), the beans look rather like beach-body-ready broad beans. They contain all, or almost all, essential amino acids, according to Antonio Carluccio, Jamie Oliver, Dr Rupy Aujla and others. Both their shape and high protein content make them the mesomorphic athletes of the bean world. They make skinnier (cannellini), broader (broad beans, duh), runtier (black-eyed) and spherical (peas) beans feel inadequate in comparison. Why can’t they all play along? You may notice that edamame beans never put an appearance in tins of mixed bean salads: this is because they’re too busy lounging in the freezer aisle, self-admiringly revelling in their firm bite and unobtrusive skins. It’s really no wonder that the inventor of tofu boiled them to death until their proteins flopped out of them, if just to make them less smug in their nutritional content.

Whilst tofu is more readily available than edamame beans, as well as being higher in protein for its weight, an edamame bean is still a delightful thing to eat in its own right. Whereas tofu at best has a flavour which we could describe as ‘bland’ – chicken breast without meatiness, salt without saltiness – edamame beans have a plasticine-like grassy taste with an undertow of vegetal mineraliness, which is offset quite nicely, in this popular salad of my mother’s, by peppery radishes, sweet peas and a zingy dressing.

Edamame salad dressed hot to trot with crunch, colour and contrast. Serves 4 lunchboxes. Eat with pasta or bulgur wheat to make more of a meal of it.

  1. Boil 300g frozen edamame beans and 300g frozen garden peas (petits pois are too small for this) for 4-5 minutes until they are cooked. Drain and let sit in the pot for a bit to air-dry.
  2. Wash and finely slice 4 medium spring onions (or 1 if it’s a chunky round-bottomed one). Wash and slice 100g radishes however way you like. Make a salad dressing with 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, 1/2 tsp chilli flakes, 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 1 minced clove of garlic
  3. Stir all the ingredients together in a big bowl, season and serve as a glamorous side dish to a Sunday roast. You could also zest the lemon from the dressing and add the zest too.

Notes: Not everybody tolerates chilli. Fortunately this, as with all recipes which use chilli as a spice, can be made just as easily without chilli and have no discernible flavour difference. After all, chilli has a nasty habit of killing your tastebuds anyway.

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