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Soybeans - It's Not Just Tofu Anymore

Updated on July 30, 2010

When you think soybeans, you probably think tofu. If you prefer not to think tofu, but you've been reading about the myriad health benefits of soybeans, there is an answer.

Chalk another one up for the Japanese, to whom I am deeply indebted for bringing me sushi. (Hold the fish please!) Between that and edamame (fresh soybeans), I'm even willing to forgive them for aiding and abetting the spread of tofu.

Edamame are showing up in health-food stores, and even many supermarkets, in both the in-pod and out-of-pod versions. Once out of the pod, edamame are the color of lima beans and the size of pinto beans, and they can substitute for either one. In almost any recipe, soybeans are a one-to-one replacement for any fresh legume (lima beans, peas, fava beans) or cooked dried legume (navy beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas).

Edamame are also a better nutritional choice than tofu - they have less fat and more fiber. (Tofu can get up to 60 percent of its calories from fat). Calorie for calorie, they're the best way to get the nutrients and protein you've come to expect from your soybeans.

You're unlikely to find fresh soybeans at the supermarket, but you might at your local greenmarket. The frozen version, which is widely available, is a fine substitute. Both the fresh and frozen versions can be boiled or steamed in just a few minutes.

  • Make a spring salad with asparagus, soybeans, scallions, and shrimp with a soy-ginger dressing.
  • Add them to a minestrone-style vegetable soup.
  • Make a spread by pureeing soybeans, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Thin it with chicken stock, and serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.
  • Add them to a cold salad - pasta, tuna, or even potato.
  • Replace lima beans with soybeans in succotash or three-bean salad.
  • Add soybeans to rice, orzo, couscous, or any kind of pilaf.
  • Put soybeans in a stir-fry or vegetable sauté.
  • Dress pasta with a simple sauce of canned clams, garlic, soybeans, and a dash of Tabasco.

The simplest way to eat them is straight out of the pod. Boil frozen edamame for 3 or 4 minutes; drain and serve hot, lightly salted.

Black Soybean Hummus

Black soybeans are the perfect substitue for chickpeas for making a hearty hummus. Since soybeans have a natural creamy texture and nutty flavor there is no need to add olive oil and only a small amount of tahini (sesame seed paste) is required for that rich flavor of a traditional hummus. If you enjoy a little heat, try adding a bit of harissa paste, made from North African hot peppers. Beware that harissa is Chernobyl hot so use it in moderation! You'll find both tahini and harissa at most international grocery stores, or just the tahini can be found at some health-food stores.

1 clove garlic
1 can (15 oz) black soybeans, drained
2 Tbsp water
3 Tbsp lemon juice, fresh squeezed
1 Tbsp tahini
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp harissa OR 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Rough chop the garlic and place in a food processor with soybeans, water, lemon juice, tahini, salt and harissa. Process until you achieve a smooth paste consistency, scraping down the sides of the processor as required. Taste for seasoning and spice level, adding more salt or harissa as needed.

2. Transfer to a serving bowl and (if desired) garnish with a sprinkle of sweet paprika and oil cured olives. Serve with pita triangles for dipping.

Tip: I usually double this recipe so I have extra for the next day's lunch. Hummus and roasted red pepper in a whole wheat pita pocket. Yum!

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