Seriously Asian: Simmered Soybeans (Nimame)



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There's nothing particularly difficult or impressive about this week's dish, but it's managed to work its way into my life with alarming regularity.

Each week the cast of characters changes in my refrigerator and on the countertops. Recipes, in various stages of completion, rotate in and out, leaving me feeling untethered to any particular culinary tradition and by extension, a way of life.

But for the past few weeks, I've kept a container replete with these little soybeans soaked overnight, then stewed in dashi, sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. Tiny squares of kelp are simmered alongside the soybeans for an extra boost of umami flavor. The seaweed soaks up much of the mirin and sugar, so each little nub of kelp is a mostly tender, slightly sticky burst of sweetness. It's a simple but utterly delicious dish.

Soaking the soybeans.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about these soybeans. Of all arguably more important or random thoughts I could be entertaining, mostly, I'm just plotting when and how I can consume nimame.

The dish is an excellent addition to bento boxes, but the intensity of the flavors make it interesting enough to have as the main attraction atop a small container of rice for a quick lunch. Or, it's equally good as a filling snack that won't weigh you down. See what I mean? The possibilities are all tempting.

"the soybeans, when soaked overnight, will expand to four times their original size."

Like so many Japanese home-style dishes, nimame is also an economical dish: the soybeans, when soaked overnight, will expand to four times their original size.

Finally, it's helpful to have a drop-lid when cooking nimame (or other simmered dishes, for that matter.) Made of wood, a drop-lid fits snugly inside of your cooking vessel rather than on the rim, so that the lid rests gently on the food during cooking. The lid encourages the simmering liquid to evenly distribute its force, so that the dish will never boil over or dry out too quickly.

If you cook a lot of Japanese or Chinese braised dishes, or you happen to be absent-minded when tending simmering pots, the lid is an essential addition to your arsenal of tools.