It took a trip to Japan to realize I've been making edamame wrong all these years.
Well, not necessarily wrong wrong. But not the best way possible.
When I discovered the joys of edamame about 10 or 12 years ago, I would buy bags of the frozen stuff, microwave them, and sprinkle table salt on top. Then I progressed to boiling them in a pot. When I discovered fresh edamame in Chinatown, and replaced Morton with Malden, I thought this was as good as edamame could get. After all, it tasted the same as at all the Japanese restaurants in the US.
Then I went to Japan. In Tokyo this past summer, I noticed something slightly different about the fuzzy little legume that was as good an accompaniment with omikase-style sushi as it was with beer at 2 a.m. My meals of tempura, sashimi, fugu, and yes, even fugu sashimi were all bookended by a dish of edamame that tasted, well, better. Was it just because my subconscious dictated that the Japanese food had to taste better in Japan?
One night when returning to the guest house, a traveler from the north of Japan was snacking on some edamame in front of the TV. He was watching game show contestants clad in knee pads and mud hurling themselves around an obstacle course. He offered me some edamame.
It had the same subtle but brilliant taste as in restaurants, like a Chinese tea egg mixed with dried salted peas mixed with a sensuous bowl of tonkatsu ramen...but more muted, and in the shape of a pod. Garlic? Anise? Sugar? Well, I was lost. Unfortunately, I spoke no Japanese, and his English was rudimentary at best, so there was no way I could dig up a list of ingredients from him.
Back in the US, my internet research and Japanese cookbooks have been little help. Salt, water, salt, water, is what every recipe calls for. My tastebuds are not always accurate, but I know the edamame in Tokyo I've eaten is boiled in something other than pure H20.
So here is where I'm seeking your help. Do you know of a recipe that employs anise, garlic, and joyful amounts of umami? If not, do you use season your edamame with something other than just salt, for a little more oomph? From comments, I'll hopefully finally gather enough info for a recipe, and finally stop going all the cookbooks at Borders in search of something that seems so simple.