Soybeans have achieved a somewhat besmirched reputation in this country as a “health(y) food,” but Chinese consider them in their whole form to be a fun food—texture-rich little nuggets to enjoy with wine or with an assortment of cold snacks.
Pick over the soybeans carefully, discarding any that are bruised, blackened, or shriveled. Cover with 3 cups cold water and soak overnight. The beans will swell as they soak.
Discard any empty shells or beans floating on the surface, then drain the soybeans. Put them in a small, heavy pot and cover with cold water to come 2 inches above the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer, and simmer 5 minutes.
Drain, then rinse the beans and the pot with cold water to remove any scum. Return beans to the pot and add cold water just to cover. Bring to a near-boil over high heat, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and add the anise, soy, and sugar to the pot. (Leave the star anise whole for a decoration when serving.) Stir to dissolve the sugar, then cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce is reduced by half and is slightly thick, 15–20 minutes. When nearly done, taste for desired sweetness and adjust if necessary to achieve a rich blend of soy, sugar, and anise flavors.
Remove the pot from the burner. Cover loosely, and swirl the pot frequently while cooling to distribute the sauce. When thoroughly cool, discard any loose shells and scrape the mixture into a clean glass jar or bowl. Seal tightly and refrigerate a full day for best flavor.
Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled, mounding the beans in a bowl of contrasting color or serving them in individual dip dishes alongside each place setting. Arrange the star or several individual points on top for color, then pour the sauce evenly over the beans. Eat with chopsticks, if you wish to test your skill, or with a small spoon if you’re less patient and greedy for the sauce.
The soybeans keep 4 days, sealed and refrigerated. Flavor peaks on the second day.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.