I could go on for hours days about how incredible Japan's food is. From the street carts selling gourmet crêpes ( they're everywhere ) to the melon flavored soda ( and anything else you can imagine ) to the green tea ice cream, panda shaped cookies and of course, red bean paste. This nation is in a league of its own with flavors not even considered in the US.
In fact, a Japanese man, Kikunae Ikeda, has even discovered a new flavor, Umami ( loosely translated: pleasant savory taste ). There is a large science behind what activates the umami taste receptors and what makes up the unique flavor, but that’s a whole other blog post. In short, umami is a balance between sweet, salty and savory. This red bean paste falls in the umami flavor category ( leaning more towards the sweet side ).
Red bean paste, or Anko, is a ancient staple in Japanese sweets. An intense, unique texture with a sweet flavor makes for a perfect filling for a savory steam bun but tastes just as well on shaved ice ( melon flavor, of course ). Today, mochi, another Japanese sweet, are filled with anko to create Daifuku mochi ( great luck rice cake) and given as gifts in ceremonial occasions.
The main ingredient in this paste is Azuki beans. I’ve seen them called other names including Aduki beans or adzuki beans. These can be found in the international isle of most grocery stores. Buying canned saves a lot of time, but make sure you rinse the beans before starting. If you’re buying dried, make sure you soak & boil until beans are easily smushed.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 cup Azuki beans
- 3/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
Here’s what you’ll have to do:
- In a medium pot, add Azuki beans and just enough water to cover the top.
- Over medium heat, bring beans to a soft boil ( too much movement will cause beans to break).
- Add sugar in thirds, approx. 5-7 minutes apart. Stir every few minutes.
- When mixture is thick and you are able to see the bottom of the pan for 3 seconds, remove from heat.
- Add salt, mix.
- Cool & refrigerate overnight
- I served mine with strawberries to enhance the sweet flavor, but this Anko may be served with whatever you like. Freeze leftovers.