Young green soy beans, commonly known as edamame, are one of my favourite vegetables. Small and exquisite, their colour a sweet emerald green that brightens up any supper table. You may serve them boiled, in their fuzzy pods, for the pleasure of popping them out and nibbling them with a glass of beer. Otherwise, they can be steamed or stir-fried, or used in colourful "eight treasure" stuffings. I’ve even had them, dried but still bright green, in mugs of salty green tea in rural Zhejiang province!
The following dish is one that I enjoyed on a September noon in the Zhejiang hills, when my friend A Dai took me to visit an organic chicken farm. We explored the farm, where healthy looking chickens pecked around a slope stocked with bamboo, persimmon, camphor and loquat trees, then walked down to the farmhouse for lunch.
This recipe, made with "snow vegetable", one of the favourite local preserves, was on the table that day and I’ve never forgotten it. You can add more or less snow vegetable as you please and you might like to pep it up with a little chilli and Sichuan pepper, to give it a Sichuanese twist. Either version is great served either hot or cold. The same method can be used to cook peas or broad beans.
- 250 g fresh or defrosted frozen green soy beans (podded weight)
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 5 dried chillies (optional)
- ½ tsp whole Sichuan pepper (optional)
- 50 g snow vegetable, finely chopped
- ½ tsp sesame oil
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
If using fresh soy beans, bring a pan full of water to a boil, add salt, then the beans. Return to a boil, then cook for about 5 minutes, until tender. Drain well. (Frozen soy beans are already cooked.)
Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the oil and swirl it around. If using the spices, add them now and sizzle them very briefly until you can smell their fragrances and the chillies are darkening but not burnt. Then add the snow vegetable and stir-fry briefly until fragrant.
Add the beans and stir-fry briefly until everything is hot and delicious, seasoning with salt to taste. Off the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.
Variation: Stir-fried green soy beans
Take 250 g fresh or defrosted frozen green soy beans (podded weight). If they are fresh, boil them as described in the main recipe, then drain. Cut a strip of red pepper into small squares about the size of the soy beans. Add 2 tbsp oil to a wok over a high flame. Add the beans and pepper squares and stir-fry until hot, seasoning with salt to taste. Off the heat, stir in 1 tsp sesame oil and serve.
Recipe from Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop, with photographs by Chris Terry. Published by Bloomsbury.