Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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This week’s goal is to master the art of boiling soybean sprouts. Although their affordability and availability tend to relegate them to a supporting role, you will rediscover their strength if you can draw out the crispy texture and gentle sweetness. They will make a nice side dish that will be useful, for example, in the summer as a topping for cold noodles.

A key is to start boiling in water placed on high heat. This way, the heat will slowly reach the center of the hard soybeans while the stem will remain taut and both will turn out just right. For bean sprouts that are of a type without the beans, reduce the cooking time after the pot comes to a boil.

While the cooked soybean sprouts are still hot, sprinkle lightly with salt and season with sesame oil. The way to cool them is another key. A recommended way is called “oka-age” in Japanese cuisine, where the ingredient is cooled not by immersing in water but rather exposing it to wind. Fanning can be much more effective than just leaving them to cool.

The natural features of Japan where water is abundant may have developed boiling as a cooking procedure. Although some people worry that the water-soluble nutrients will drain in the process, boiling allows us to eat a generous amount compared to when the vegetable is raw.

Bean sprouts have many uses and can be sauteed or added to soups. The flavors vary between the filling soybean sprouts, the mung bean sprouts with white thick stems and the thinner yet textured black matpe bean sprouts. In some cases, they are marketed after the fibrous root is cut off for a smoother texture.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Katsuhiko Yoshida in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Serves four)

1 bag (200 grams) soybean sprouts (mame-moyashi), 1/3 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp sesame oil, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp vinegar, pot, colander, fan, bowl, long chopsticks for cooking

1. Soybean sprouts are fresh when they feel taut when the bag is held. Avoid those with darkened root parts. Pour water in large bowl, immerse for about 10 minutes to remove smell (PHOTO A).

2. Place soybean sprouts and enough water that allows the soybean sprouts to swim and place on high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium heat, boil for another minute to cook both the beans and stem (PHOTO B).

3. Drain on colander. Sprinkle salt broadly and mix with chopsticks. Sprinkle 1 tsp sesame oil and mix. Spread soybean sprouts inside colander and fan to cool (PHOTO C). This will remove excess moisture and heat so the soybean sprouts will turn out crispy.

4. Mix vinegar and soy sauce. Add 1/2 tsp sesame oil to make sauce. Serve soybean sprouts on dish and pour sauce on top.

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Katsuhiko Yoshida is the owner chef of Jeeten, a restaurant in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Uehara district offering Chinese home cooking.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairperson of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Spring cabbage dressed in sauce>

Use spring cabbage instead of soybean sprouts and enjoy its softness and sweet taste. Cut a quarter (230 grams) of a head of cabbage into bite-size pieces. Squash core part by pounding on the flat side of the knife and cutting into appropriate size. Add to boiling water and cook for about 50 seconds and remove on colander. As with the soybean sprout, mix with 1/3 tsp salt and 1 tsp sesame oil, fan to cool.

The procedure may be applied to spinach, “komatsuna” or “chingensai” leaves, but boiling time should be adjusted. Hot chili oil, doubanjiang or mustard may be added to the sauce to taste.

COOKERY SCIENCE

When vegetables are heated at 50 degrees or higher, the cell membrane loses its semipermeability and breaks. When this occurs, the surface undergoes change and hardens to prevent the entry of microbes. When the temperature is around 60 degrees in particular, vegetables will become harder than their raw state and will not soften. A dish that uses this reaction is the “potato as mock Japanese pear.” Fine strips of potato are immersed briefly in boiling water so that they turn out crispy.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column