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Prairie Fare: Have you ever eaten edamame?

This recipe gives you a chance to try tofu, a soy food. (NDSU photo)

"What is that?" my husband asked. I think I detected a note of disdain in his voice. I could almost see a thought bubble above his head with "What is she trying now?"

I was putting the contents of a bag of steamed edamame in a bowl. Yes, they looked a little like fuzzy green pods with stems.

"These are immature soybeans, which I steamed in the microwave. You don't eat the pods. You pop them out of the pods," I said as I opened a pod to show three green soybeans.

He tried a soybean and gave a nod of approval. Edamame is high in fiber and protein. Edamame is available in various forms in some grocery stores, including shelled or unshelled, and frozen or fresh. Edamame may be boiled or steamed in less than 10 minutes.

Julie Garden-RobinsonWhen they gathered at the dinner table, my three children had similar initial "what is this?" reactions. However, they enjoyed the hands-on dinner project, especially because all the other foods were familiar. Whenever you introduce something new, pair it with favorite foods.

My older daughter was so impressed that she took a bowl of edamame to have as a snack while studying.

I had just returned from a conference. During the conference, we were asked to experience something new with our teams, whether that was trying a new restaurant or going to a local attraction. Most of the groups chose to try some type of unusual food.

One group tried eating roasted beef bone marrow scooped out of the bones. They also feasted on octopus. In my less adventuresome group, people were eating raw fish. I ate a bit of sushi with raw salmon.

Being a food safety specialist, eating raw fish was a bit out of my comfort zone (way out of it, in fact). I figured the restaurant was still open, so their customers must be surviving.

We also had steamed edamame and tempura vegetables. I had tried edamame before, but after having some at the conference, I decided my family needed to try it, too, when I arrived home.

Soy foods have been used for more than 5,000 years, especially in Asia. North Dakota is a leading producer of soybeans.

Soy is used in a variety of food products, as well as nonfood products including shampoo, fuel and cosmetics.

Some food products containing soy protein may carry a health claim approved by the Food and Drug Administration: "25 grams of soy protein per day, as a part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease."

On the other hand, some people are allergic to soy. Any product containing a soy ingredient must carry an allergen statement ("Contain Soy") to let people with allergies know it is present.

How many soy foods can you name? Did you think of soy sauce and soybean oil? Soy sauce is widely used to flavor Asian foods. Soybean oil can be used in cooking or baking. Soy milk may be used by those with intolerance or allergies to dairy. Isolated soy protein is a common additive, and flavored roasted soy nuts are sold as snack foods.

Tempeh and miso are other soy foods. Tempeh is an Indonesian-derived food that combines and ferments soybeans with grains such as rice. Tempeh adds a smoky, nutty flavor and may be used in soups and casseroles. Miso is a fermented soy product usually mixed with rice to create a thick paste used in sauces, spreads and soups.

Most people are familiar with tofu. This is a soft, creamy product made from curdling soy milk to form curds. It has a neutral flavor, so it takes on the flavor of the foods with which it is cooked.

You can find tofu in soft, firm and silken forms. You would use soft tofu in smoothies or other blended recipes. Firm tofu can be grilled or stir-fried, while silken tofu is used in dips. It is rich in protein, B vitamins and calcium, and low in sodium. People following a vegetarian diet often use soy products as a protein source.

Here's an opportunity to try tofu. This was a big hit when we tested the recipe.

Soy and Spinach Artichoke Dip

1 pound silken tofu, crumbled

1 pound low-fat cream cheese, cubed

1 cup low-fat mayonnaise

½ teaspoon ground pepper

1 pound frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained

1 (15-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained, coarsely chopped

½ cup green onions, chopped

Parmesan cheese, grated, for garnish (optional)

Using a mixer, beat tofu until smooth. Mix in cream cheese, mayonnaise and pepper in mixer bowl. Fold in spinach, artichokes and green onions. Spread mixture evenly in a 9- by 13-inch pan. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until bubbly and browned on top.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 16 grams (g) fat, 11 g protein, 11 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber and 440 milligrams sodium.

Garden-Robinson is a food and nutrition specialist for the NDSU Extension Service

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