The Joy of Soy

The humble soybean is so versatile, a multitude of food applications can be employed to satisfy
any soy craving. From slightly sweetened okara served simply "as is" or formed into fried
croquettes to slightly sweetened soy milk as a morning vegetarian milk substitute to that
ubiquitous curdled soy milk product, tofu to the refined textured vegetable soy protein meat
substitutes, the by-products of the soybean are here to stay.

In its Simplest Form

When immature soybeans are harvested as a food source, they are simply known as edamame or
"twig bean". I'm sure you've sampled these at your favorite izakaya where they simply may be
steamed or sometimes steamed then flash fried with various seasonings. When "squished" out of
their pods, this popular bar food makes for a healthy snack with a fair amount of protein and
fiber. I often mix the "shelled" variety with rice (along with furikake and nametake ochazuke)
for added protein and the "bite" they add to the soft rice. An added benefit to consuming
edamame in their native form is that you get all of the protein (some of the water soluble
proteins are lost during processing of soy milk) and all of the fiber. Oh, I realize some of you
may not appreciate bean fiber for its "musical" side effects. It doesn't bother me at all, I just tell
people that I'm not gassy but my intestinal bacteria are...

Happy Beans Produce Happy Milk

I can just visualize a commercial with two soybeans talking to each other about how good life is
ala the California Milk Advisory Board's Happy Cow commercials. The commercial ends with
Happy Soybeans make Good Milk and Good Tofu. Since the US is the largest  producer of
soybeans, WHY NOT? Just give me credit for the commercial.
When dried soybeans are rehydrated and ground (full fat soy flour also accomplishes the same),
the resulting liquid is soy milk. With about the same amount of protein as cow's milk but a lot
less saturated fat, soy milk is an attractive alternative especially for those who can't digest milk
sugar or lactose. It doesn't contain the same amount of calcium since the calcium is bound to
the fibrous material of the soybean but this is easily remedied with the addition of calcium
carbonate. Because I am a sukoshi bit lactose intolerant, I prefer consuming soy milk in place of
cow's milk. Especially with a little bit of mocha syrup added to the glass.

Though soy milk is great on its own, the biggest use in Asian cuisine is coagulating it to
produce tofu. Since I wrote an article totally dedicated to tofu about 2 years ago (http:
//, I won't belabor the point other than to state that
tofu still occupies a significant part of my diet in all forms. Soft, medium, firm, fried, deep fried
and yes, even fermented as the basis for the "gravy" in jai.

Soybean By-Products

After the rehydrated soybeans are ground to produce soy milk, there's a lot of "stuff", namely
fiber and protein along with vitamins and minerals that don't make it into the soy milk that's
leftover. Stateside, this "stuff" is usually used for pig or cattle feed. This "stuff" or okara
previously was given away by the pound at tofu factories where lucky recipients would use it as
filler for vegetarian patties or cook it with shoyu, mirin, carrots, gobo and shiitake for a side
dish called unohana. Because of utility in cooking (and probably because of the large Japanese
community in the 50th), okara now costs more than soybeans, tofu or any other soybean based
product. That's why I now get my soybean fiber from edamame.

Tofu production also creates a surface "skin" that's usually dried to produce yuba which is a
good source of protein and unsaturated fat. After rehydrating, this soy milk skin has a firmer
texture than firm or fried tofu and adds a pleasing "bite" to stir fried dishes. And unlike fried or
deep fried tofu (abuurage) which have to be refrigerated, the dried yuba can be stored at room
temperature. It just takes rehydration overnight as the dried consistency is akin to hard plastic.

Fermented Soybeans

The first two are Japanese cooking staples, the 3rd... well, that takes a little gettin' used to.
When soybeans are fermented via Aspergillus oryzae or sojae with salt and water, you ultimately
end up with soy sauce or shoyu. Not just a cooking and seasoning staple in Japan but
throughout most of Asia. When these same soybeans are combined with rice and perhaps a little
barley and a koji mold starter, then end product is miso. Essential for pickled vegetables, that
morning bowl of soup and perhaps the Gochiso Gourmet's favorite application, miso butterfish.

Then there's soybeans that are fermented with Bacillis subtilis that develop that piquant aroma
of toe jam and the consistency of... snot. The nutritionist part of me wants to enjoy natto
knowing that fermentation improves the digestibility of the bean proteins and reduces
indigestible sugars that cause the "musical" side effects... but. In all fairness, I have tried and
retried it on multiple occasions and actually REALLY enjoy it as a chirashi sushi with cubed raw
ahi and fukujinzuke. And by itself, it simply tastes like those coffee grounds at the bottom of a
cup of Turkish coffee.

Soybean and Soy Product Recipes

I first posted this recipe in the November 2006 column but since that was over 5 years ago and
edamame never gets old (for me at least), here goes mo ichido:

Brown Rice Meshi

5 cups cooked brown rice
1 bottle nametake (roughly 1 cup)
½ bottle furikake (roughly 1/3 cup)
1 lb shelled edamame

Soak rice overnight then cook using conventional rice pot or electric cooker. During the last 10
minutes of the steaming of the rice, layer edamame over rice then cover. When rice is done
cooking, pour into a large mixing bowl and toss to evenly distribute the edamame. Add
nametake and furikake and toss again to evenly distribute.

Nametake are bottled small, long mushrooms seasoned with shoyu and other flavorings. They
are labeled as Ajitsuke, ochazuke, Aji, etc but usually also include nametake on the label. Use
can use any flavor of furikake but I find that varieties that contain bonito flakes provide the
most flavor. There are also furikake brands with no added salt or MSG for those with dietary
restrictions. You can steam then shell your own fresh edamame though it’s readily available pre-
shelled and frozen, chilled or vacuum sealed for convenience.

This next recipe from Ina Garten's Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake which is an easy version of the
classic tiramisu. I substituted a block of Mori-Nu tofu for some of the cream cheese and
renamed the recipe in tribute of that luscious soy custard, tofu:


2 cups cold heavy cream
8 ounces whipped cream cheese
12 ounces firm tofu
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Kahlua Mocha (or other coffee liqueur)
2 tbsp Valrhona cocoa powder (or other cocoa powder)
1 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Roughly 1 to 1 & 1/2 lbs of thin chocolate chip cookies (without nuts)
Shaved chocolate for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, with a hand held electric mixer slowly beat first 8 ingredients on low
then slowly increase speed until still peaks form.
Arrange cookies in 1 layer on the bottom of an 8 to 9 inch spring form pan covering as much of
the bottom as possible. Spread about a 1/2 inch layer of the cream mixture covering all of the
cookies. Repeat the process until you have 4 or 5 layers ending with the cream mixture. Cover
with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
To serve, remove the side of the spring form pan then garnish with the shaved chocolate.

Final Words

So for those who always thought the humble soybean and its byproducts were boring, think
again. Different forms, different textures, different flavors all from that little legume known as
Glycine max. It literally fills the whole menu continuum from appetizer to entree to side to
dessert. When was the last time the same could be said about beef or pork? And nutritious to
boot? Like having your cake (or tiramisu) and eating it too! So if I've peaked your interest (and
appetite), please attend the Northern California Soy & Tofu Festival at the San Francisco
Japantown Peace Plaza on Saturday, June 2, 2012 from 11:00am until 4:00pm to discover all
that is The Joy of Soy!