Wednesday, 15 September 2010
Edamame - Fresh Shell Soy Beans
Anyone who drives through Ontario in the summer has seen the endless fields of soybeans interspersed with the equally endless fields of corn. Neither of those are for direct consumption by people, but are either components of much more processed foods or, more likely, animal feed. It's actually rather hard to find soy beans being grown in Ontario to be eaten as soy beans. They are, however, very popular as a vegetable ( and snack food) in Japan, and they can be ordered in any of the many sushi restaurants that have popped up here in the last decade or two under the name edamame. They are all imported I am sure; I have to wonder why. We can certainly grow them here, although the varieties to be used as edamame are not the same as the field soy beans. Actually, interest in growing them is increasing and research is being done on the best varieties to grow here.
We tried growing our own this year (and last year, when we had even less success). For something that grows all over southern Ontario, we had a bit of a hard time getting them to germinate. I don't think they love our sandy, acidic soil. However, the ones that germinated grew well enough, and produced a good bunch of hairy little pods each. Like most beans, they abhor cold soil and so we did not plant ours until the beginning of June. They are determinate plants, so it's best to plant both early and later varieties, or to do several plantings of a week or two apart. They freeze very well, so you may also wish to harvest your crop all at once for processing.
It's important to pick them just at the right time. If you pick them too soon, the beans will not have filled out properly. However, if they sit long enough for the pods to start turning yellow, they will be tough and overmature. You probably have less than a week to get them at their peak, so watch them carefully once they are close. The plants will only reach about 18" to 24" in height, much like other bush beans. A few sticks in the bed may help keep them upright, but they are not twiners. The ripe beans look like a cross between a lima bean and a pea, and they taste a bit like they could a cross between them as well. The texture is firmer than either, and the flavour has a nutty hint.
The simplest way to serve them - and the one found in all those sushi restaurants - is to boil them in their pods. The boiled pods are pulled through the teeth, so that the beans stay in the mouth and the tough pods are then discarded. They can be served hot or cold, but are generally sprinkled with a little coarse salt. They can also be shelled and used in soups, salads, casseroles, etc. We boiled ours for 5 minutes, then froze them. When we want to serve them, we will drop the pods into boiling water again for 5 minutes. If you are going to eat them fresh, you should boil them for the full 10 minutes, or even for 15.
We grew the varieties "Envy" and "Beer Friend"; two of the more common of the handful of varieties presently sold in Canada as seed. I can't say we noticed much difference between them.