For many of us, soy is associated with those gray, meatless dishes that we avoid at the buffet. There is a whole lot more to soy than serving as a tool to control the buffet owner's ingredient budget. It turns out that soy can be a positive and delicious part of everyone's diet.
Soy comes from soybeans, which are abundantly grown throughout the United States. Our most common use of soy is as tofu. Edamame is just a fancy name for immature soybeans left whole. Tofu is made by cooking water-soaked soybeans until it becomes a liquid (sold as soy milk) and adding a coagulant. Depending on the amount coagulant used, the tofu's texture can range from pudding texture to quite solid.
Soybeans can be allowed to ferment and crushed into a paste that is called miso (of miso soup fame) or firmed up a bit and called tempeh for use instead of cold cuts. Alternatively, the beans can be roasted and sold as a snack. Quite a flexible little bean!
Any avid reader of food labels has seen soy in the ingredient list for everything from mayonnaise to oven-ready turkeys. Because of its prevalence in American agriculture, soybeans are VERY inexpensive. That makes them an ideal filler material to stretch those expensive ingredients that get top billing on the front of the label. Just ask anyone who is allergic to soy and they can talk for hours about the challenge of eating soy-free in America.
But why do we care about the soybean? Cost can be a reason to take another look. Since soybeans grow so well here, soy products are quite inexpensive. Family food budgets are stretched thin, so adding soy to the menu can free up some cash for a trip down the ice cream isle.
Soy is also a great source of protein. Soy is sometimes called the perfect protein for vegetarians. That is because it contains many of the nutrients that would otherwise be lacking in a diet without meat.
Soy also contains a lot of fiber, which is good for you and it helps you to feel full. You get good nutrition without the saturated fat and cholesterol of meat, and you push back from the table more quickly because you feel satisfied. A very nice "two-fer" from the hard working soybean.
So how can you ease yourself into enjoying more soy? The roasted soybeans are available with a broad variety of seasonings, so serving them as a salty snack is a great introduction. The soft tofu can become part of your sauce as a thickener. Yes, you can put a tofu sauce over meat without starting a food riot! Feeling daring? Drop some cubes of firmer tofu into the salad, and see if anyone notices! You could be on the road to enjoying the hardest working bean in America.