Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sweet Azuki ~ Sweet Lunar New Year

Welcoming the New Year with sweets is a tradition which crosses many cultural boundaries, and Asia is no exception. On the Lunar New Year, special sweet dishes are prepared for celebratory meals. Since beans symbolize both health and prosperity, azukis are a popular choice among Japanese chefs; their auspicious red color adds to the portion of good luck they promise.

The delicate, subtly herbal flavor of azuki beans is best enhanced by very simple preparation. This recipe is composed of just water, beans, sea salt and a sweetener to ensure that the taste of the azukis will not be obscured. Sugar is usually used to make traditional azuki desserts but I've replaced it with golden Sultana raisins to create a mildly sweet but satisfying dish.

Soak the beans for at least six hours in fresh water, or overnight. It's ok to leave the beans in their soaking water in the fridge for an extra day. The raisins are soaked for at least one hour to make them soft, but they too can be held for a day in the fridge. For convenient soaking, place the raisins in a clean glass jar with enough water to cover. Process the raisins with their soaking liquid in the blender until fairly smooth.

After soaking and rinsing, the beans are boiled twice in fresh water for one minute to rid them of any impurities or bitterness. It's easiest to use a stainless steel colander placed in the sink to safely drain off the hot cooking liquid.

Sweet Azuki Bean Paste (Tsubu- An)

2 cups azuki beans, soaked at least 6 hours & drained
fresh water to cover during 1 minute boiling
4-5 cups fresh water
2/3 cup golden raisins, soaked at least 1 hour in water & pureed with soaking liquid in blender
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1. Place soaked and rinsed beans in pot with enough water to cover by about 1 inch.
2. Bring to a boil for one minute, drain off cooking liquid and rinse beans in cool water.
3. Repeat steps 1 & 2, being sure to rinse out the pot each time.
4. Return beans to pot, add 4- 5 cups fresh water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer beans for 50 - 60 minutes or until soft. Add more water if needed during cooking.
5. Add pureed raisins and sea salt to beans; simmer on a low flame and stir until most of the cooking liquid is evaporated. The whole cooked beans will look like the bottom photo.
6. Turn off heat and mash some of the beans with a wooden spoon, leaving some beans whole if you wish; the finished dish will look like the top photo.
7. Cool beans by pouring them onto a ceramic or glass platter.

Serve sweet azuki in small dessert dishes; the flavor is best at room temperature. Drizzle with a little maple syrup to ensure an extra sweet New Year!