Beaned By Lucky Edamame

Soybeans have long been celebrated as a high-protein superfood, but beyond their nutritional prowess, did you know that they can chase away demons, too? Japanese people have taken advantage of this for centuries with stellar results: Not a single demonic incident since setsubun!

What Is Setsubun?

Celebrated on February 3rd, setsubun means “seasonal division,” marking the end of winter and beginning of spring according to the old Japanese calendar. Since I’d do anything to speed through this dark period every year, I’m all for that! Many people have come to describe it as the “bean-throwing festival” in reference to the most important annual tradition.

Mamemaki, “bean scattering,” is the practice of throwing dried soybeans either out the front door or at a family member wearing a demon mask to drive away bad fortune. I’d always argue that it’s more fun to throw food at loved ones, but your mileage my vary. After cleansing the home of evil spirits, you’re then supposed to eat the leftover soybeans, counting out one for every year of your life, plus one more for good luck in the coming year.

This time around, let’s make soybeans that are so addictively spicy and savory, you’ll only want to throw more of them into your mouth.

Seven is a lucky number in Japanese culture, which is why ehomaki (large, uncut sushi rolls) are filled with exactly seven ingredients on this day, too. Shichimi togarashi, a spice blend made with seven components, is the perfect seasoning to follow suit.

What’s Sichimi Togarashi Made Of?

Also know as simply shichimi, there are no hard and fast rules for what makes the cut, but most blends include the following:

  • Sansho pepper or Sichuan peppercorns
  • Chilies
  • Ginger
  • Orange, mandarin, or yuzu zest
  • Sesame seeds
  • Poppy seeds
  • Nori

Use it anywhere you would black pepper for a bolder, more intense heat and complex flavor overall.

How to Make Crispy Soybeans

The dried soybeans traditionally used for setsubun are what we might refer to as soy nuts here. Personally, I much prefer the fresh, buttery taste of green edamame instead. The trick to getting them crispy is to cook them low and slow, gently removing moisture without burning the outsides. Believe it or not, your air fryer is just the tool for this job! Most air fryers have dehydrator settings now, offering temperatures as low as 90 degrees. Naturally, you could use a conventional dehyrator if you have one handy.

Demons had better keep their distance when these tiny fireballs are on the table; they really do bring the heat! Smoldering with the spice of powerful chili peppers, every bite has a resounding crunch and zesty finish that will bring you back for more. Pack them up as healthy snacks on the go, enjoy with a glass of sake, or eat them like popcorn while you Netflix and chill.

More Ideas For Using Crunchy Edamame

Aside from just eating the crispy beans out of hand, they’re an incredibly versatile ingredient in many other dishes.

  • Toss into leafy green salads
  • Top soups and stews
  • Crush roughly to use instead of breadcrumbs
  • Mix into energy bars
  • Use instead of pine nuts to sprinkle over pasta or risotto

鬼は外! 福は内! – Devils Out! Fortune In!

Slam the door shut on misfortune this year and eat your way to better luck. Crispy shichimi edamame will never do you wrong.

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Congee Is The Cure

Have you ever eaten something that was spicy enough to wake the dead? Though not for the weak of stomach, that might be just what the doctor ordered.

That was the literal inspiration for this recipe, glutinous rice porridge, AKA congee. Of course, the original dish is incredibly mild, sometimes seasoned only with a pinch of salt, if that. Meant to soothe an upset stomach, it’s classic sick day food that’s easy to digest and gently nurse the unwell back to health. Now I’m beginning to think that the opposite approach might be more effective.

Mo Dao Zu Shi (魔道祖师) is far from a food-focused donghua, but stick with me here. The protagonist, Wei Wuxian, is known to make his meals unbearably spicy, to the point that you’d think one’s spirit would depart their body after a single bite. This turns out to be an asset that ultimately cures those suffering from corpse poisoning.

There’s good sense to back this theory up. Hot peppers have genuine medicinal properties granted by that characteristic burn. Capsaicin is the compound responsible for its culinary prowess and health benefits.

What are the benefits of capsaicin?

  • For short term pain relief, biting into a blisteringly hot food releases endorphins, creating a mild “high” and dampening other discomforting sensations, like headaches, joint pain, and beyond.
  • Chili peppers are great for improving heart health! Studies have shown they can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and increase blood flow.
  • Stress less with a calming dose of B-complex vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1). Deficiencies in these vitamins can lead to added anxiety or trouble regulating moods over time.
  • Have tissues handy because this stuff will clear out your sinuses and ease congestion. Plus, capsaicin has antibacterial properties which are effective in fighting and preventing chronic sinus infections.

Most importantly, this is medicine you’ll WANT to take.

Toppings for congee are entirely up to the eater. Creamy rice porridge can do no wrong as a gracious base for anything your heart desires. Aromatic ginger and garlic are a classic starting foundation, amplified by savory, salty soy sauce.

Consider the following ideas to customize you own invigorating and restorative hellbroth:

  • Shiitake mushrooms are brilliant here, chopped finely to infuse every grain with umami.
  • To satiate a heartier appetite, bulk it up with plant proteins, like baked or braised tofu, or cooked beans.
  • Add textural contrast with toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds.

The only non-negotiable is the chili crisp. This is what transforms a bowl of mush into a downright addictive meal. While it’s tempting to eat it straight from the jar, try to keep at least a 1:1 ratio of chili crisp to congee, for the sake of your stomach.

Whether it’s a cold, flu, or corpse poisoning, this flaming hot chili crisp congee will cure what ails you.

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Playing With Fire

Food is simply more fun when you can set it on fire. Don’t believe me? Clearly, you need more saganaki in your life.

What Is Saganaki?

Although most people associate the word saganaki with gooey cheese that’s pan fried and served hot, the word itself actually refers to the cast iron pan itself. A wide variety of appetizers, or Greek tapas, if you will, fall under the category. Given the popularity of molten cheese though, 9.5 times out of 10, this is the version most people think of.

Fire isn’t a mandatory or even traditional ingredient. It was first presented with this theatrical flare at the Parthenon Greek Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. Given the opportunity to set food on fire, however, why would you chose anything else?

How To Make Vegan Saganaki

Vegan saganaki is made just the like classic by simply swapping out the dairy. Of course, there’s no direct non-dairy translation for traditional kasseri cheese, but plenty of respectable substitutes. Plant-based feta is your best bet, since it melts reasonably for that satisfying gooey interior, has a strong flavor that can stand up to the alcohol infusion, and is widely available in most markets. My favorite vegan feta options, in order, are:

  • Violife
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Daiya

The key is to buy only full blocks, not crumbles or cubes, and nothing tofu-based which is impervious to melting. Of course, meltability is both an asset and a flaw for this preparation. Instead of staying firm but gooey, like a runny brie at room temperature, vegan feta tends to lose all structure and form, liquefying into a rich, creamy dip with a glorious toasty surface. Plant-based saganaki is possibly an improvement over the original, because this version has further applications, such as:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Pizza topping
  • Spanikopita filling

What To Serve With Saganaki

Flaming cheese alone doesn’t make a meal, but it can become a central facet of a well-curated array of savory bites. Whether this is the prelude to a full entree or the main event itself is all in the portions. Classic accompaniments and serving suggestions include:

  • Crusty bread, toast, or crackers
  • Pita wedges, grilled or warmed
  • Olives
  • Dolma (stuffed grape leaves)
  • Hummus
  • Mediterranean or shirazi salad
  • Raw crudites, like sliced cucumbers, carrots, or celery
  • Roasted or grilled vegetables, like red bell peppers, zucchini, or eggplant

Tips For Success

  1. Any high-proof spirit will work in this recipe. Try ouzo to keep it Greek, or use vodka for a more neutral flavor.
  2. Safety first! Turn off stove and remove the pan before adding alcohol. Use a long lighter to ignite the cheese, or light the end of a piece of dried linguine or spaghetti first to act as a conduit.
  3. To make this recipe gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend instead of all-purpose.
  4. Make a smaller batch by cutting your feta in half or even quarters, and adjusting the remaining ingredients accordingly. It’s more about the technique than exact measurements.Like moths, we’re all inexorably drawn to the flames. When you want to start an event with a bang, impress someone special, or just play with fire, this will be your new favorite party trick.

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If Wishes Were Like Shlishkes

Certain staples of Jewish cuisine are beloved as nonpartisan delicacies, as they should be. Steaming bowls of matzo ball soup soothe the soul, crisp latkes satisfy cravings for all things fried, and bagels are the grab-and-go breakfast for countless generations. Food doesn’t care what you do or don’t believe.

Shlishkes, however, haven’t made the same leap into mainstream culture. Originating with Hungarian Ashkenazi Jews, these humble potato dumplings are often compared to Italian gnocchi for their similar structure. Tender, soft, gently simmered morsels made from a bare minimum of ingredients, they’re within easy reach of anyone on a budget or with limited cooking experience.

Potato Shlishkes

How do you make shlishkes?

It’s quite simple:

  1. Boil and mash potatoes.
  2. Add flour.
  3. Cut into dumplings.
  4. Boil and drain.
  5. Toss with breadcrumbs and bake until toasted.

This final step is what truly separates it from the other potato-based pastas. Liberal use of vegan butter or schmaltz and breadcrumbs transforms homely dough into nutty, crunchy, rich, and savory delights.

Want to make these shlishkes your own?

Such a simple formula is ripe for creative interpretation. A few easy ideas for a tasty twist on tradition include:

  • Use coarse almond meal or crushed crunchy chickpeas instead of breadcrumbs for a gluten-free option.
  • Swap white potatoes for orange or purple sweet potatoes.
  • Add cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes to spice things up.
  • Use olive oil instead of vegan butter or schmaltz to decrease the saturated fat.
  • Finish with a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan cheese.

Like any good starchy side, shlishkes are best accompanied by a hearty entree. In truth, though, there’s no bad pairing or inopportune time to serve them. Enjoy shlishke for Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, Bachelor parties, Satanic rites; anything worth celebrating with a comforting, homemade meal!

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