Sweetened azuki bean paste opens the door to East Asia, where it is widely used in a variety of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean sweets. Whether used in bread or pastry fillings, sweet soups, pancakes, or ice cream, the essential azuki bean is usually highlighted as the main flavor. Its assertiveness is best complemented with neutral ingredients, or my personal preference, enjoyed on its own with a splash of milk or cream and a cup of green tea.
Store-bought azuki bean paste, convenient though it is, can be tooth-achingly sweet to the point of inedibility. Making your own unsweetened bean paste gives you the flexibility to adjust the sugar amount depending on the recipe.
Azuki bean paste generally comes in two consistencies: chunky (tsubushi-an) and pureed (koshi-an). The following methods for both types should cover the majority of your red bean paste needs. You’ll be relieved to know that soaking and pressure cookers are optional — azuki beans are a relatively quick-cooking legume.
2 Sweet Azuki (Red Bean) Paste Variations – Chunky and Pureed
makes about 2 cups (450 grams)
1 cup (6.35 ounces / 180 grams) azuki beans
To Prepare the Azuki:
Wash the azuki beans and place in a large pot filled with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, drain, and discard the water. Continue with the instructions for either chunky (tsubushi-an) or pureed (koshi-an) azuki bean paste.
For the Chunky Azuki Bean Paste
1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
pinch of salt
Add about 3 cups of water to a pot containing the par-boiled azuki beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot, and simmer the azuki beans until soft, approximately 45 minutes to 1 1/4 hours. The water should be almost completely absorbed by the time the beans are done. Add water as needed while simmering to prevent the beans from scorching.
Add the sugar, stirring gently until the azuki bean paste is heated through and glossy. Season with a pinch of salt and mix well. The paste should be thick with some whole and half-crushed azuki beans.
For the Pureed Azuki Bean Paste
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, or to taste
pinch of salt
sieve or fine mesh strainer
cheesecloth or cotton bag
Add about 5 cups of water to a pot containing the par-boiled azuki beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook the azuki beans until soft, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours. There will still be a considerable amount of liquid at this point.
Place a sieve over a bowl. Pour the beans and liquid into the strainer, such that the bottom of the strainer is partly immersed in the liquid.
Using a wooden spoon, spatula, or the palm of your hands, mash the beans through the sieve into the simmering liquid so that the bean skins stay on the sieve.
Pour the mashed beans and simmering liquid into a cheesecloth or cotton bag and squeeze out all the water. Put the unsweetened bean paste in a saucepan, add the sugar, and cook over low heat, stirring gently until the azuki bean paste is heated through and glossy. Season with a pinch of salt and mix well. The paste should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.