There must have been a time in my toddler years when I looked out at the fields growing around our small Midwestern town and said, "What are they growing?" Soon, I'm sure I tired of hearing the same thing, "field corn," and "soy beans," and stopped asking. The fields around my town were never growing something fun like "Popcorn," or the kind of corn you used for Corn Flakes. I couldn't point to a single item in the grocery store and say, "this came from where I live!"
The plants that grew in the fertile soils were primarily used to make something else. Field corn was used to fatten pigs and livestock. Soybeans were processed by extracting the oil, and the de-fatted soy was used for animal feed. A bit of this was also used for filler in processed food; probably the same food that was served in my school's cafeteria.
As I sat in the backseat of the car, there was never a field more boring to look at than one full of soybeans. Short little plants that didn't even get tall enough to make a maze.
Still, the farmers around my town grew a lot of soybeans. They dotted almost every field across our landscape. And not once did one of my aunts pick a pile of soybeans and boil them for dinner. Sure, they harvested plenty of tomatoes, cabbages, green beans and "sweet corn," but not once would they eat the lowly soy bean. Perhaps because it was fed to the pigs, the soy bean had little respect to the Midwestern farmhouse wife. Still the soybean was revered for other reasons; primarily because of the cash the crop generated.
I can't remember the first time a steaming bowl of soybeans was served to me in a white-linen-tablecloth restaurant, but I do remember instantly falling in love with the taste of this delectable vegetable. There, it was not called a soybean, of course. It was the oriental vegetable served in sushi restaurants, Edamame, (beans on branches). As I ran the shell of each pod along my teeth, and pushed out the beans, I kept thinking that this amazing delicious bean had been growing outside in the fields for as long as I can remember, and it had been completely ignored all my life. Still, I later learned, that the farmers around my home were growing field soybeans, much different than Edamame; Edamame, of course, is sweeter.
Still, fields full of Edamame are somewhat of a rarity in the Midwest. Because of the vegetable's evolving popularity, this is slowing changing. Soybeans are a complete protein, also full of calcium, magnesium and potassium. This could be the answer to my kid's finicky-eating problem. Thankfully, when I served a bowl of these green beans, to the boys, they ate up the soybeans like it was popcorn.
The first time I fixed them for my Mom, I was nursing a baby, and she ended up taking over in the kitchen. My Mom had mastered the fine art of cooking a green bean to perfection. As a child, I used to eat serving after serving of her green beans. Yet, I didn't have a chance to stop her before she boiled the soybeans until they were too gray (like green beans) and covered them with butter (no no). I explained, "Mom, you don't eat the shell.. they just need salt."
By far my funniest moment with soybeans was when I announced our new-found dietary delicacy to an Uncle who has been growing them for most of his life: "We put a bowl of soy beans on the table at least twice a week." His mouth dropped, and he just looked at me, waiting for me to finish. "They're really good," I said. "You should try 'em some time."
So, to any of you who have driven past fields of soy beans (although it was likely the "field variety"), and have yet to taste them, here's how to cook them. They could be the answer to the problem of getting your kids to eat their vegetables:
- If no field of soybeans is close by, you can buy a frozen bag of Edamame at the grocery store. (Check the organic section.)
- Place the soybeans in a pan of boiling water for about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Drain, and sprinkle with dashes of salt.
- Shell with your teeth and pop into your mouth.