Edamame Is The Protein-Packed Ingredient Your Pesto Needs

Few dishes deliver quite the same freshness as a bowl of pasta tossed with herbaceous, bright pesto sauce. But, if you're looking to introduce some new life to the classic dish and take things a notch beyond basic basil sauce, there's one ingredient that will seriously elevate your next batch, while also upping the protein content: edamame.

These unripened soybeans beans tucked inside green pods are eaten widely in Japanese cuisine. They are delicious when boiled and simply sprinkled with salt, but can also become a flavorful addition to a variety of meals. To incorporate the beans into pesto, the edamame pods just need to be cooked by boiling, steaming, or frying for five to 10 minutes in their pods, until they have an al dente texture. Then, the beans can be removed from their shells and added into the blender or food processor along with any herbs you like, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, citrus, nuts, and cheese to make the desired green sauce. 

When incorporated into pesto, edamame adds an element of earthiness and umami flavor that can bring depth to the recipe. It also imparts a nice buttery feel that contributes to the luxurious texture in each bite. 

Edamame packs serious protein into pesto sauce

If you're looking to eat more vegetable protein sources, edamame — solo or in pesto sauce — can be a great boost of the vital nutrient in your diet. According to Healthline, edamame contains good amounts of fiber, iron, calcium, and vitamin D, and it's also a good option for those seeking complete plant-based proteins. As a complete protein, edamame contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs to obtain through food (which can sometimes be a bit tricky to find with veggie sources). This makes edamame the ideal ingredient for those looking to cut down on meat, but still get the same nutrients.

For example, adding in 1 cup of edamame to your pesto increases the protein content of the whole batch by 18.4 grams. With this trick, there's no need to fry up an extra protein like tofu or fish to make your pasta dish more hearty — simply blend in your cooked edamame beans. Once you do so, you'll likely find the dish to be more filling and satisfying, too. If you're looking to incorporate even more protein, choose a fortified plant-based pasta to soak up your pesto, like one made from other legumes like chickpeas.

Additional ways to spruce up your pesto pasta

Edamame is widely available fresh or frozen, and can usually be found in the grocery store or your local Asian supermarket. Once you've cooked it and de-shelled the beans, and your sauce is blended and creamy, incorporate it with the noodles and some reserved pasta water to help the sauce cling to the grains. From there, the culinary options are endless, and after you try adding edamame to your next homemade pesto dish, you'll likely won't want to go back to average jarred alternatives.

To vary up your edamame pesto, and even make it vegan, add in nutritional yeast in place of cheese. Or simply add in a tablespoon or two of soy sauce to up the umami flavor, without the need for Parmesan or other animal-derived ingredients. Another option is to toss toasted cashews or pine nuts into the blender with the rest of your pesto ingredients for an extra savory boost. You can also look to other classic ingredients used in Asian cuisine to complement edamame, such as vibrant Thai basil and cilantro.

For a protein powerhouse, showcase the sauce's star ingredient and top your pasta with some extra edamame pods as a garnish. (Just remind anyone eating it that the shells are not edible.) Then, make the green pesto pasta truly pop by adding in other fresh, colorful ingredients like sliced red radishes, chopped scallions, or juicy cherry tomatoes.