Fresh soy beans (edamame in Japanese) are so supremely delicious that I sometimes wish I had never discovered them, especially as they enjoy a greater degree of heat than I can easily supply in my South Otago garden. I first encountered edamame in a fusion-style Wellington restaurant when they were brought to the table in their still steaming, slightly hairy, lime green pods. When I tried one, I thought had died and gone to Heaven. It was like having a delicately flavoured morsel of butter dissolve in my mouth. My next, equally delicious encounter, was in a food hall in Tokyo where the pods (again steamed) arrived with some soy sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. After that, I looked for edamame everywhere but they were not to be found. Then, just last week, I came upon them again in a Korean restaurant in Dunedin and, sadly, having become more aware of "food miles", and having discovered that the pods on offer had indeed been flown in fresh from Japan, I decided I had better not order them.
Soy bean plants really are a very pretty vegetable when seen in the garden. My first glimpse of them was in Nerita, Japan, when I was out for a run early one morning to stretch my legs before a long flight back to New Zealand. I have a nose for sniffing out vegetable gardens, even in the middle of a huge city, and sure enough, when I turned up a little side road, there was a garden that came right to the edge of the footpath. And among the spring onions and spinach and so many vegetables I didn't recognise, were soy bean plants with strong upright stems holding clusters of fuzzy pods with two or three beans clearly bulging in their shells. Though I had never seen them before except in books, they were unmistakable. Since then, a friend who's lived in Japan, has told me that there are really only three days in the life of the pods when they actually yield what are known as "edamame". After that they presumably age and become harvestable in some other form.
After turning down the edamame in the Dunedin restaurant last week, I returned home and was making my usual batch of fresh soy milk from my Marlborough-grown dried soy beans when it occurred to me that these same beans would probably sprout if I soaked them in water and threw them into some potting mix. And sure enough, they have, a whole tray of them! Now, despite the fact that they are said only to produce edamame well in temperatures of around 20 degrees Celsius, I've decided to press on. I'm going to transplant some of the seedlings into pots which will sit on my sunniest of window ledges, and try a few others in the glasshouse. Who knows what will come of it? At best, I may have a few home-grown edamame, at worst I'll have some very pretty pot plants. Of course, if you live in warmer climes than me, you can try them outdoors in your garden and will probably succeed in raising a few healthy pods – though just how you know when the 3-day window of opportunity for harvesting arrives, I'm not quite sure!
Tip: if you don't happen to have a sack of dried beans in the house, don't despair because I see garden sized packets of soy beans are now available in from Kings Seeds.