Growing up, sweet red bean paste was one of my favorite treats. I especially loved the flower shaped buns, hot and fluffy from the Chinese bakery, glistening with egg wash, dotted with a couple of cursory sesame seeds, filled to the brim with creamy, sweet red bean paste. For some reason, I don’t remember red bean paste being very popular back then. It probably had something to do with the color: deep, dark burnished amber, almost flirting with black.
To me and my brother, red bean paste was our version of peanut butter. We’d spread it on golden pieces of toast, eat it on crackers, and sometimes straight up eat it out of the container. We were lucky – my mom knew that red bean paste was one of my brother’s ultimate favorite foods, so she’d regularly spend part of the weekends devoted to making a big jar of the good stuff.
I’ve been obsessed ever since. Discovering other red bean paste sweets has been a passion of mine. I was in heaven when Mike and I were in Japan a couple of years ago. The Japanese really love red bean, or azuki. They even have two types of pastes: smooth (koshian) and chunky (tsubuan), just like peanut butter! And like peanut butter, red bean paste is chockfull of protein.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy red bean paste is in dorayaki. If you’ve been to a Japanese bakery, or to Japan, you’ve probably seen dorayaki: two golden pancakes gently hugging a center of sweet bean paste. The pancake outsides aren’t technically pancakes, they’re more like soft and fluffy honey cakes, kind of like a pancake version of the ever popular Japanese castella cake.
They’re perfect with lightly sweetened red bean paste. Typically dorayaki is filled with a chunkier red bean paste, but because I grew up eating smooth red bean paste, I definitely prefer it. I loved how these guys came out. I made them mini because everything mini is better – you can have 4 dorayaki instead of one. Mike and I made a snack out of these guys with some green tea. Mike’s not the biggest fan of red bean, but he couldn’t resist these guys, so I’d say they’re a winner! We ended up eating the whole batch. It was my kinda afternoon :)
PS: 2016 is the International Year of Pulses! Some of my favorites are: chickpeas, lentils, dried peas, and beans. When you cook them properly, they have the absolutely best texture. I always have pulses in my pantry (right now I have azuki beans, chickpeas, split peas, great Northern beans), which makes it easy to eat them once a week. I hope you’ll try to as well and take the Pulse Pledge with me!
Smooth Red Bean Paste Recipe
makes 1 cup
- 1/2 cup azuki beans
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1-2 tablespoons neutral oil
Rinse the beans and place them in a bowl. Cover with water so they are completely submerged and soak overnight. The next day, drain and rinse. Place in a pot and cover the beans with water (at least an extra 2 inches of water on top). Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer, for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are very soft and you are able to squish one between your fingers. If needed, add water to the pot so the beans don’t dry out.
Drain the beans. Place in a blender with the sugar and blend until completely smooth.
In a non-stick pan, heat up a touch of oil (start with 1 tablespoon) over medium heat. Add the azuki paste and cook, stirring often, until heated through, glossy, and smooth. The key here is to add moisture via the oil, and remove any water content from the beans. Add a touch more oil if needed. You want a paste that resembles thick peanut butter. Remove and enjoy warm on toast, in dorayaki, or with cake!
Mini Dorayaki with Red Bean Paste Recipe
makes 20-30 mini filled pancakes
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon honey
- 40 grams flour (heaping 1/4 cup)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon water
- oil for the pan
- smooth azuki bean paste
Whisk the egg, sugar, and honey until light and fluffy. Sift in flour and baking powder. Stir until smooth and let rest for 5 minutes. Stir in water right before frying the pancakes.
Heat a large non-stick pan over medium low heat. I used a crepe maker on the lowest setting, but a pan works as well, just make sure that it’s non-stick. Dip a small piece of paper towel in oil and rub it over the surface. Use a clean paper towel and completely rub all the oil off the surface. This helps with an even golden brown color. For mini pancakes, use a 1/2 teaspoon measure and pour the batter onto the pan. It will spread out into a tiny circle. Repeat until your pan is filled. By this time, the first pancakes you made should be ready to flip. Just like regular pancakes, you’ll see tiny bubbles form on the surface. Flip and continue to cook for 30 seconds or until the pancake is golden brown and releases easily. Remove from the pan.
Fill the pancakes with a small amount of red bean paste and enjoy!