Slow-simmered beans are a mainstay of many frugal Japanese households, a nutrition-packed boon to limited budgets. Although not particularly difficult, dried-bean cookery does require time in some instances, several days from beginning to end though most of it passes with only minimal attention of the cook. During both the soaking and the cooking steps, the beans undergo a transformation in several distinct stages, changing from a shelf-stable pantry item to a richly seasoned, fully cooked food.
Note that you will be simmering the beans for an extended time with only saké and sugar, both tenderizing agents. Soy sauce is added at the very end of the cooking. This kind of simmering is often described as “alphabetical,” referring to the Japanese vocabulary for the various seasonings and the order in which they are used. This deeply flavored mélange can be tucked into an obentō lunch box, tossed in a green salad, or even nibbled with a cold beer or saké. If you have some Nutty Tōfu Sauce on hand, it is terrific folded into it. The simmered beans will keep for a week in the refrigerator.
- Yield: 6 Servings
- ½ cup dried soybeans
- 4 cups water
- 4 tablespoons sake
- 1½ tablespoons sugar
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- About 6 ounces konnyaku, white, black speckled, or a mixture, diced, blanched for 1 minute, and drained
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup diced broccoli or cauliflower stems (diced to match the size of cooked beans), blanched for 1 minute
- Rinse the dried soybeans, then place them in a saucepan with 2 cups of the water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. When a few beans begin to float to the surface, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let the beans cool to room temperature in the pan. Leave the beans in the pan or transfer them and their liquid to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate overnight. Either way, the beans should swell to nearly twice their original size.
- If necessary, return the beans to the saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Skim away any froth with a fine-mesh skimmer and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Add 2 tablespoons of the saké and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Cook the beans for at least 1 hour, though 1½ hours would be better. Add boiling water as needed to prevent the beans from sticking or burning, always maintaining a simmer as you do. Skim away froth and any skins that float to the surface. Check the beans for tenderness: you should be able to spear them easily with a toothpick and find no resistance when you bite into one. Drain the beans and rinse out the saucepan.
- While the beans are simmering, extract a stock from the mushrooms: Break off the stems and set them aside for making stock on another occasion. Here you are using only the caps to make the stock. Soak the caps in the remaining 2 cups water in a bowl for at least 30 minutes and preferably for 1 hour or more. Remove the caps from the liquid. Rinse the caps to remove any gritty material, squeeze, and dice. Pour the soaking water through a fine-mesh strainer (or disposable coffee filter) into a clean bowl to remove unwanted bits that may have settled at the bottom of the bowl.
- Add the diced mushrooms, the konnyaku, the reserved mushroom stock, the remaining 2 tablespoons saké, and the remaining ½ tablespoon sugar to the clean saucepan. Reintroduce the beans to the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover with an otoshi-buta, or with a circle of parchment paper and a flat metal lid slightly smaller in diameter than the rim of the pan. Cook, skimming away froth as necessary, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the simmering liquid is reduced by about half. Add 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the contents of the pan to cool naturally, with the otoshi-buta in place. It is during this cooling-down period that flavors develop and meld.
- Set the pan over medium heat again and bring to a simmer. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and cook for 5 minutes, or until nearly all the liquid is gone. Just before serving, add the broccoli stems and toss to mix. Serve family style from a large bowl, or divide among individual bowls.