Sweet Red Bean Paste (Anko) is a hugely popular Japanese treat. Usually paired with delicious chewy Rice Flour Dumplings (Dango), you can also pop it on top of your favourite cakes or ice cream. Better yet, pair with matcha green tea ice cream for a truly Japanese experience.
On Monday we told you about one of our first loves, this creamy melty Honey Baked Camembert from France that is super super SUPER EASY to make.
In fact, wait. Maybe don’t click that link. No really – it’s seriously addictive. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. 😉
Today we’ve got another of our favourite finds ready to share with you guys, one that, until today, we’d never cooked before.
The first time we came to Japan it seemed like Sweet Red bean Paste (aka anko) was literally everywhere, hidden in everything.
We’d be walking past a Japanese souvenir shop and spot a tasty looking morsel on display. Oh look. A little sweet bun. It’s so cuuuuute. Let’s get one!
We’d take a quick bite and…
Red bean paste.
Oh loooook. A sugar dusted mochi. Wonder what’s inside?
Red bean paste.
Perhaps we should have called this recipe Sneaky Red Bean Paste?
I seriously think people in Japan must be addicted to the beany stuff. And after all this time spent roaming (and eating) our way through the streets of japan we’ve realised… we’re addicted too.
I know, I know. I can hear you now.
Beans. Sweetened beans. In a paste. Seriously?
There’s just something about it, something that goes way past simple mashed beans mixed with sugar and honey and a dash of salt.
I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but this silly little paste just makes us happy.
So, rather than heading down to the local 7-eleven for today’s little anko escapade, we decided it’s high time we learned how to make it ourselves.
First thing we discovered: azuki beans and kintoki beans are NOT actually the same thing, even if they look reeeeally similar.
BUT if you accidentally buy kintoki beans because you forgot to look up the kanji before you left home, you’ll still end up with a really good bean paste that gets our friend Rieko’s seal of approval.
Secondly: whichever bean you use, azuki or kintoki, they’re really hard, so your best bet is to soak them overnight so they’ll be ready to cook the next day.
And thirdly: it can be hard to get that smooth, perfect texture so often found in commercially produced anko, even after soaking.
In fact, looking into it a bit further we realised there are actually two main styles of anko known as Tsubuan and Koshian.
- Tsubuan is made by boiling the beans and sweetening with sugar and honey. That’s what we’ve done today.
- Koshian is prepared the same way, then passed through a sieve to remove the bean skins leaving the paste with a super smooth texture.
Well we didn’t have access to a sieve but we did have our trusty lightweight travelling fork to mash it all up with, tsubuan-style.
Rather than scoff the lot with a spoon like we were tempted to do (the struggle is real people), we decided to create ourselves a nice little anko delivery system.
Known as dango in Japanese, these traditional Rice Flour Dumplings are soft and chewy and really good at soaking up all that red bean goodness.
They’re ridiculously easy to make too, needing only rice flour and a little bit of water. As I looked on, Sarah mixed and kneaded until the little snowy white dough balls was as hard as ‘earlobes’. (I seriously love that this is the actual description for how to properly make dango!).
We boiled them up until they were good to eat then topped them with spoonful after spoonful of red bean heaven.
Yep. It’s like anko and dango were made for each other.
And now if you’ll excuse us we’ve got some sweet reminiscing to do. Where’s that matcha ice cream?
Looking for some more tasty Japanese recipes? Try these:
- Homemade Japanese Mochi
- Simple Onigiri Rice Ball Snack
- Pork Gyoza Dumplings
- Quick and Easy Takoyaki
- Udon Noodle Soup
- 200 g azuki beans or kintoki beans
- 200 g raw sugar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 pinch salt
For the dumplings
- ½ cup rice flour
- water luke warm
- Rinse the soaked azuki or kintoki beans thoroughly in a large pot. Fill with water until covered. Bring to the boil then add 1 cup of cold water and stir. Bring to the boil for a second time then drain.
- Fill with fresh water then boil again until beans are tender. Continue adding water while cooking to ensure beans are always covered.
- Once the beans have softened and can be squished easily, drain one last time leaving a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the pan.
- Add half the sugar and stir through the beans. Heat gently over the stove and continue stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the second half of the sugar and repeat.
- Mash the beans into a paste, adding a little more water as needed until you’ve achieved a soft, thick consistency. (Alternatively you can mash less for a more textured consistency).
- Add in the honey and salt just before removing from the heat. Stir through.
For the dumplings
- Place the rice flour in a mixing bowl. Gradually add water and mix well, kneading until the dough becomes as ‘hard as your earlobes’
- Separate into small dumpling balls. Bring to the boil in a saucepan and cook until the balls start to float.
- Place in a bowl and top with sweet red bean paste.
- Kintoki beans are larger than azuki beans and are usually cooked with soy sauce as a savoury side dish. The only real difference we noticed when using them in anko is that they have a slightly stronger bean flavour, which you can overcome if needed by using a bit more sugar. Otherwise they’re just as good!
- Store the paste in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge or a month in the freezer. We recommend freezing in individual portions for ease of use.