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Mouthing Off

Soy to the world: If you believe the hype, soybeans could be the next Prozac. This versatile little legume--which is available as a fresh bean, coagulated into tofu, fermented into tempeh and miso, pressed into milk and salted into sauce--reportedly may help in preventing cancer, lowering cholesterol, reducing heart disease, easing menopause and preventing osteoporosis. (Taki's Golden Bowl, reviewed above, is papered with articles detailing such soybean studies.)

While most people's understanding of soy usually starts and ends with soy sauce, there are now quite a few families out there whose lactose-intolerant babies have been transformed from cranky, miserable tykes into gurgling little charmers with a switch from cow juice to soy milk. Miso has always been known as a sort of Japanese penicillin, and tempeh is becoming popular as an alternative to lentils and ground veggies in vegetarian burgers. But the most amazing thing about soybeans may be that they taste great--especially boiled and served in their pods. Called edamame (pronounced ed-ah-mom-ay, not eat-a-maim), they're served as a snack in Japanese bars the way peanuts are over here.

Today there are enough soybean aficionados to justify a slew of recent cookbooks dedicated to the bean. My favorite of the lot is The New Soy Cookbook, by Lorna Sass, who writes knowledgeably and appealingly without sounding as though she's on a crusade for the soybean to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Sass offers easy-to-follow recipes for all of the bean's permutations, including a few unusual ingredient combinations, such as quinoa with tempeh adobo nuggets. But the real prize is a super-simple "Impromptu Miso Soup," which can be made in six minutes.

That's assuming, of course, that you already possess light and dark miso. (The stuff keeps for about a year, so don't worry that you're going to waste it, at least not until an entire year has gone by and you realize it's still sitting in the back of the fridge.) You're also going to need wakame flakes, a dried version of a sea vegetable that comes to life in hot water. (In a pinch, you can substitute chopped spinach or bok choy.) I get my miso and wakame at the Pacific Mercantile (1925 Lawrence Street), but just about any well-rounded Asian market will have them.

After your first spoonful of this heavenly elixir, just try to remember that it's also good for you.

Impromptu Miso Soup
from The New Soy Cookbook, by Lorna Sass
(reprinted with permission)
2 1/4 cups water

2 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1/4 cup)

1 Tbsp. sweet white miso
2 tsp. barley (dark) miso
1 Tbsp. instant wakame flakes
(or 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach or bok choy)
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Ladle out a half-cup of the boiling water and pour it into a glass measuring cup. Add the tofu to the water in the pan; reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for one to two minutes. Meanwhile, blend the misos into the hot water in the glass cup by mashing the paste against the sides of the cup with a fork and stirring vigorously. Just before serving, add the wakame to the pan and simmer one to two minutes. Turn off heat and stir in miso mixture. Ladle into bowls, garnish with scallion and serve. Feeds one or two, depending on whether it's a meal or just part of one.

Big Mac attack: According to an article in Nation's Restaurant News, McDonald's restaurants are "nearly as ubiquitous as noodle shops and sushi bars" in Japan. Since the first Golden Arches appeared in that country almost thirty years ago, the number of McDonald's outlets in Japan has grown to 2,400--a tenth of the chain's worldwide total and twice the number of the next-largest American chain there, Kentucky Fried Chicken. And 71-year-old Den Fujita, who co-owns all of them, predicts a total of 10,000 units by 2006.

That's considerably more than McDonald's late founder, Ray Kroc, envisioned when he and Fujita created the fifty-fifty joint venture almost thirty years ago; at the time, Kroc announced that he hoped to have 500 units in Japan by 2001. Even that seemed optimistic: In 1971, hamburger meat was not regulated in Japan, and people were afraid to eat it. To get around that problem, Fujita convinced the Japanese government to create a "Grade A" ground-beef classification and then had it applied to McDonald's meat. He tailored sandwiches, such as the Teriyaki McBurger, to the Japanese appetite; he's also credited with being the first in the world to put the eateries in gas stations.

For more on the eccentric Fujita and his McDonald's dynasty, which earned $3 billion in 1996, pull up www.nrn.com/resources/mcd_japan.html.

Asia like it: Speaking of fast food, my September 17 item on Mongolian barbecue got two fast responses. "You must be out gathering some more misinformation," one nameless grouch told my voice mail the other day. "There have been Mongolian barbecues in little old Denver since the early Eighties. Thank you." And with that, he hung up.

It would have been nice if Mr. Grumpy had told me what places he was talking about. I asked a fellow food writer who's been around town longer than my five years if he knew of any, and he didn't. Neither did Emily Port at the Exline Agency, the public-relations company whose client, BD's Mongolian Barbecue, is scheduled to open at 1620 Wazee Street mid-October. In that same Mouthing Off, I'd chastised BD's for declaring its intention to "introduce Denver diners" to the concept of "interactive dining." But Port, who wrote that line, insists that the BD's concept is much different from that of Lim's Mongolian BBQ, which has been offering interactive dining at 1530 Blake Street for years.

"Instead of a cafeteria-style buffet line, people have about sixty more options to choose from, and then they go sit in the center of the restaurant around a six-foot grill, where these grill masters cook their food," Port explains. "Then they go to another table to eat their food. BD's actually hires people who are entertainers as the grill masters."

Although it would be nice if they also could cook, that doesn't seem to be a requirement. "For the opening festivities, we're going to hire celebrity grill masters," Port says. "In fact, we've been talking to Norm! Clarke, and we think he's going to do it. Actually, I shouldn't say that. He hasn't completely committed yet."

Too late.

--Wagner

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