Nimame: Japanese Simmered Beans
Japanese Boiled Soybeans Recipe
In Japanese, ni refers to simmering, mame refers to beans. Simmering beans is a lovely picture, homey and simple with an otoshi-buta floating gently in the pot, allowing the smallest bit of steam to escape.
I like beans but many people find that beans don’t like them. Most cultures cook beans with special herbs to mitigate their gaseous effects. In Mexico it is epazote, in India they use asafetida, in the Middle East it is cumin, in Europe garlic is often used, Germans use bohnenkraut. In Japan they use kombu (giant seaweed), which adds umami. You won’t miss meat with this savory magic. I’ve been using kombu whenever I cook beans, and it really seems to work for Mr. Tess’s delicate digestive system.
So enjoy these salty-sweet Japanese style beans for dinner soon!

A hill of beans in colloquial American is a symbol for something of trifling value, … Its most famous appearance, … was at the end of the film Casablanca, in which Humphrey Bogart says to Ingrid Bergman, “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”. …
…a book on rural affairs by one J J Thomas dated around 1858 used [hill of beans] in describing how to grow lima beans: “A strong wire is stretched from the tops of posts placed at a distance from each other; and to this wire two diverging cords from each hill of beans are attached”. A little drawing alongside makes clear that the writer is referring to the mounding along the row of bean seeds.
It would seem that this is the origin of the phrase, and that it was then applied figuratively to the illogical idea that if one bean was worthless, a whole hill of them would be even more so.  Michael Quinion: World Wide Words

Boiled Beans
Japanese Cooking
•a simple art•
by Shizuo Tsuji
introduction by M.F.K. Fisher

page 391
serves 6

  • 1 pound dried soybeans
  • 2 medium carrots, scraped
  • 4-inch square of kombu

for simmering:

  • 2 ½ cups dashi
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce

The day before: Soak dried beans in 3 to 4 times their volume of cold water and let stand 24 hours. Discard beans that float.
To cook: Discard soaking water, and gently boil soaked beans in fresh water, uncovered, for 10 minutes, or just till the smell of raw beans disappears. (The water soybeans soak in becomes bitter, so soybeans must be boiled in fresh water. This is not true of many other beans, which may be boiled in the water in which they have soaked.) Drain and wash under cold water.
Cut carrots into thin rounds or half moons. Parboil in lightly salted water, rinse under cold running water and drain.
With a very sharp knife (a large knife is easier to use) cut kombu into flakes, about ¼ inch squares.
In a medium post, mix all the ingredients for simmering. Add carrot slices, kombu flakes, and boiled soybeans. Simmer, covered, with a drop-lid (otoshi-buta) or circle of baking paper with a vent, for 30 minutes, or until tender. Stir occasionally. Simmering liquid should be almost entirely reduced by the end of the cooking time.
To serve: Serve—hot or cold—3 to 4 heaping Tablespoons in small dishes.

10 thoughts on “Nimame: Japanese Simmered Beans

  1. This prompted me to look up your recipe for dashi, which led to adding kombu and fish flakes to my US shopping list for my trip north next month.

    I use epazote in my bean pot. It adds a certain, distinct flavor.


    • Your comment reminds me that it would be a good idea to make the dashi recipes more accessible because they are so basic for so many recipes here. My post about moon-viewing noodles will include them.

      If you plan to try your hand at Japanese cooking, add dried shiitake mushrooms to your list too. They can be used to make a nice vegetarian stock. And there is a recipe on my blog for a great dried mushroom soup, and another for simmered dried shiitake which are good on noodles, rice, or used as a small side-dish with simmered vegetables.

      I’ve never tried epazote. I could swear I bought some last time I went to Penzy’s but I can’t find it. LOL My kitchen needs some serious organizing…

  2. Pingback: Stewed Soybeans « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

  3. Hi Tess,

    I tried very hard to like soybeans back in my vegetarian days, without success. Might give this a try, though – it looks good.

    • Hi Ron,
      You have been in my thoughts even though I don’t post on your blog—too painful for me, yes a coward.
      But if you do think to try soybeans, then rinse them even more than I say in this recipe. They are different from white navy beans in that they seem to retain their “raw soy-bean ness” more than other kinds of beans. Even garbonzo beans don’t seem as stubbornly “raw.”
      You could even substitute white navy beans in this recipe: it’s the frills and flavors of the cooking sauce that makes them interesting. The saké, mirin, shoyu, sugar as in my more recent post…
      Oh, and don’t forget the deliciously black hijiki in that recipe.

      Best wishes to you,

      • Thanks, Tess.

        Yes, I do understand that for some people my blog might be hard going of late. The upside, though, is that it keeps me sane, and focused – badly needed right now. And my Chronicles of the Heart series has been remarkably popular, which I certainly didn’t expect. Actually, the last instalment, Part 16, is quite safe to read!

        Today, though, I’ve been venting my spleen on the government, with their appalling plans for the sick and disabled (I never thought I’d be so glad to be a pensioner now, and out of that benefits system). Rather more user-friendly, too! ;-)

        Take care,


        • Oh, and I spotted the other soybean recipe, and also Mr. Tess’s garbanzo bean soup. With the base of garbanzos, potatoes, garlic, rosemary, I think I can build on that quite nicely. I did, in fact, knock together a recipe, but did it on Twitter and it might be gone forever – must go look for it, before it is.


          • Very good. Not that food and fine eating is all there is to a good life, but without a satisfied tummy things can look darker than necessary.
            I think that for a comfort meal, one can not go wrong with beans (yes, I know, they don’t agree with lots of folk). This is the first year that we’ve managed to keep the rosemary plant alive over winter, the old house being too dark and cold. Beans and rosemary! garlic!
            And if you can afford it, saffron. Umami or some other indescribable flavor from saffron.

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