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The noble and neglected soybean

I neglect soybeans myself. I go for months without cooking any, and then suddenly I realize that I’m out of them. Most recently I was reminded of soybeans by this piece in the Washington Post on the environmental impact of foods: Which food is better for the planet? Nothing ranks better than soy.

Something like 80 percent of the world’s soybeans are used to feed farm animals, then the animals are eaten. Obviously that’s not a very green way to use soybeans. It’s much healthier — and better for the planet — to just eat the soybeans, even if the soybeans have been processed into something like tofu.

But cooked soybeans are not nearly as boring as we might think. Like tofu, it’s all about what you do with them. Soybeans can be rush-cooked in a pressure cooker, but the tastiest way to cook them, by far, is in a slow cooker (or Crockpot, as we call them in the U.S.). Soybeans smell surprisingly meaty and appetizing when cooked in a slow cooker. They turn out nice and brown, and they have the magical property of amplifying whatever seasonings you use. When cooking them in a slow cooker, I first soak them for about 12 hours. Then I change the water and cook them on low for about 12 hours. Adjust the amount of water you use so that, when the beans are done, they are just barely covered, or not quite covered, with water. The cooking water will thicken and add to the flavor. The cooked beans will easily keep for five to seven days in the refrigerator.

For burgers, mash the beans with a fork. I like to use a small amount of a large variety of seasonings so that no one flavor takes over — salt, garlic powder, brewer’s yeast, sage, Liquid Smoke, toasted sesame oil, tomato paste, pepper paste, Trader Joe’s mushroom umami seasoning, a touch of Worcestershire. Gluten flour is the perfect binder. Add a little cooked brown rice to improve the bite, or, better yet, cooked barley. The burgers will fry up in olive oil nice and brown and tasty.

Soybeans ought to be cheap. Right now, they’re not. Whole Foods used to sell them in bulk. But the last time I tried to buy soybeans at Whole Foods they didn’t have any anywhere in the store! Amazon has them, but good organic soybeans are more expensive than they ought to be. Still, I’d bet a dollar that even kids would love well seasoned soybean burgers.

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