|This month, we will introduce some of the many uses of azuki beans. These small beans pack a punch – besides their nutritious values, they have been used for non-edible applications such as cosmetics. We will share some favorite recipes, both traditional and modern, so you can begin to enjoy this wonderful legume!
The azuki bean has been translated in many ways – it is also known as “adzuki,” “aduki,” “asuki,” “chi dou (Mandarin),” “feijao,” “field pea,” “hong xiao dou (Mandarin),” “red oriental,” and “Tiensin red.” Whatever you choose to call it, the bean’s distinctive red color is immediately recognizable. Azuki beans are oval-shaped and are approximately 5 millimeters in diameter. They have a white ridge along one side. The azuki bean is native to Eastern Asia, but it is now cultivated in many areas of the world. Historians believe the plant originated in China and was brought over to Japan around 1000 A.D. Its popularity has slowly spread, and now there are azuki farms in North America and Australia. The bean grows in two varieties – vines (Vigna angularis) and bushes (Paseolus angularis). Farms in Michigan and Minnesota grow the bush variety, while the vines do well in China, India, Taiwan, and Thailand. The plant is related to the mung bean, another popular item in Asian cuisine.
In Japan, the beans are generally made into a paste and served as a dessert. Azuki bean paste, known as “an,” is sometimes served alone, but is commonly combined with “mochi.” Mochi is made from rice that is cooked and pounded into a sticky, gum-like dough. The mild sweetness of the sticky rice treat goes well with azuki’s natural sugars. An can be used as a filling or an outer covering for balls of mochi. The an can also be mixed with rice for special celebrations like graduations. When the rice and bean paste are mixed, the confection turns a pink color; this special treat is given to loved ones as a symbol of admiration and joy. An is used as a filling for numerous pastries too – the rice flour exteriors are often shaped with special molds into leaves and acorns during autumn, or blossoms during springtime. Japanese desserts play a substantial role in the celebration of the seasons.
Yokan is another favorite treat made from azuki beans. An is blended with sugar and arrowroot starch or agar to make a solid jelly. The jelly is almost as firm as gumdrops, but it has a distinctive texture and wonderful flavor. The recipe is easy enough to make at home, and the color variations are endless! You can also add treats to the yokan.
Bean paste snacks can be found everywhere, including train station kiosks. You can easily find snacks such as “manju” and “sesamake.” Manju is a ball of flour filled with azuki bean paste, and sesamake is a piece of yokan wrapped in a bamboo leaf. Leaves like this are used to add flavor and aroma to the treat within; they also serve as fancy but natural wrappers. Many of the available items are easy to carry, such as the mochi balls covered in an, which are skewered on a bamboo stick. Locals snack on them as they visit temples or go on walks.
Why is the azuki bean so important to Japanese culture? Perhaps its use as a sweet treat is the most important. Before Western influences introduced sugars and dairy desserts, Japanese chefs used naturally sweet foods like azuki beans and fruits. The traditional candies are both delicious and historically important. An and yokan are so ingrained in festivals and celebrations that it would be strange to turn away from the familiar treats. Japanese diets are often supplemented with Western desserts such as ice cream and pastries, but the traditional favorites will always be popular. Some products have blended the best of both worlds for a new take on cuisine; for example, there is an azuki bean popsicle with whole beans embedded within a creamy vanilla ice. People who seek the familiar grainy texture of an will be satisfied by nothing else, and the new products help to introduce azuki beans to a wider audience.
Azuki beans are also well regarded for their numerous health benefits. They are rich in fiber, which helps digestion and can aid in cancer prevention. A minimum of 25 grams of fiber is recommended per day, but many people do not meet this need because of busy lifestyles and the easy availability of low-fiber foods. You can get your daily recommended value by adding azuki beans to your evening meals as a sweet and simple counterpart to rice, chicken, or vegetables. They are also rich in calcium and potassium, two vital nutrients in our diet. Azuki beans make a wonderful addition to vegetarian and vegan diets in particular - by pairing them with brown rice, you can obtain a complete source of protein. Though this is true of most beans, the azuki is sweeter and open to a wide range of cooking techniques. Its natural sugars can brighten up a variety of soups, casseroles, and salads.
Before brand name cosmetics and makeup counters in shopping malls, people made simple mixes of plants and vegetables to achieve beauty goals. Azuki beans were ground into a powder and put on the face as a natural toner and facewash. The beans soaked up oils without drying out skin. You can try this out at home – just grind up the dried beans in a coffee grinder or food processor. Start out with a cup of dried beans – you can keep a jar of ground beans by your bathroom sink for everyday use because they last a long time. You can grind the beans once for a gritty, exfoliating wash, or sift and regrind them for a milder, gentler texture. Take a teaspoon or so and add a few drops of water to create a paste in your hands. Apply as you would a facewash, rinsing with water when you are done.
Now that we know about the wonderful qualities of azuki beans, let’s try out some recipes! The recipes for yokan and an were found in the Japanese Food section of about.com. Make your own yokan at home with a few basic ingredients. You can find agar in the baking aisle of your supermarket, and we carry dried azuki beans in our gourmet food section.
For yokan, you will need:
1/6 oz agar
4/5 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cup boiled azuki beans
To prepare, soak the agar in a pot with the water for a few hours. Then add the sugar to the pot and simmer on low heat, stirring well; add the azuki and let simmer. Pour the mix into a flat container and put it in the fridge to set. When the gel has set, you can cut it into squares and serve as a dessert.
The recipe for an, the bean paste, consists of three ingredients:
1 cup azuki beans
10 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
To prepare, bring 4 cups of water and the cup of beans to boil over high heat. Drain the beans, then put them back in the pot with 6 cups of fresh water. Simmer on low heat for an hour until the beans soften. Remove the excess water from the pot, then add the sugar and stir to form a paste. This delicious treat can be eaten with ice cream, tea cookies, or mochi. Create your own unique dessert with some simple ingredients and surprise your guests with something new!
Try cooking azuki beans as part of a dinner. The following recipe is from Michio Kushi’s book, Standard Macrobiotic Diet:
Start out by soaking the beans with kombu, which is a sea vegetable. Kombu takes out any toxins in the beans to make them more digestible. Use a 1-inch square piece of kombu for 1/2 cup of azuki beans, and soak them together for 2 to 5 hours in a bowl of water. When the beans are ready, place the kombu . in a pot with chopped squash. Butternut and acorn squashes work nicely with azuki’s sweetness, but feel free to experiment with other vegetables. Add the azuki and cover with water. Cook the mixture over low heat until the squash is soft; you may need to add some cold water during cooking. Add a pinch of salt when the beans are almost done, then cover for another 10 to 15 minutes until the water has cooked down. Let the mixture cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. This simple recipe tastes great when paired with brown rice or other mixed vegetables. You might also like to try > taiyaki, a modern favorite that blends the best of Eastern and Western treats. It consists of a pancake-like batter with a bean-paste filling. You can make the azuki paste chunky or smooth, and the recipe is open to variations beyond just beans. The recipe requires a special pan, which shapes the pancakes into little fish. Your friends and family will enjoy this easy-to-make treat! We followed this recipe from the May 1986 article in Sunset Magazine:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons melted butter of margarine
First, make the batter by stirring together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and butter or margarine. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and blend until smooth.
Place the closed taiyaki pan over medium-high heat and turn occasionally until both sides are hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle when sprinkled inside. Open pan and lightly coat fish-shaped cups with vegetable oil spray. Into each cup on the side resting on heat, pour 1 tablespoon batter, filling from ends of tails forward. Place 2 teaspoons of bean paste in center of each fish; top each with 1 tablespoon batter, covering filling completely. Close pan and cook until cakes are golden on bottom (open pan and lift cakes with a skewer to check), 3 to 4 minutes. Turn pan over and cook cakes until golden on opposite side, 3 to 4 minutes more. Tip cakes out and place in a single layer on a cloth-lined platter; keep them warm while you make remaining cakes. Serve warm. Makes 18 cakes, 6 appetizer or snack servings.
We hope you will try our azuki bean recipes – these are just some basics to get you started. Once you taste these lovely beans, you will surely come up with some new ideas! Our dishes and donabe pots can help make a stunning presentation as you try out some of Japan’s finest cuisine.
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