Author Notes: A simple recipe for this classic Asian dessert ingredient. - cynthia | two red bowls
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of paste. easily halved or doubled.
- 1 cup red beans or azuki beans, dry
- 1/2 cup sugar (or more or less, to taste -- I've seen up to 1 cup)
- 8-10 cups water (3 cups for soaking, 3-4 cups for boiling, and 1-2 additional cups as the water boils down, or as needed)
- 1-2 tablespoon oil, for frying (optional)
- Soak the red beans in plenty of water (about 3 cups) for at least 2-3 hours and ideally overnight, making sure beans are submerged fully by at least 1-2 inches of water. Rinse and drain.
- Next, combine the beans with 3 more cups of water in a pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and let the beans simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. As the water boils down, you will need to add just enough water to keep the beans submerged. For me, I added 1/2 cup after about 30 minutes of boiling, then another 1/2 cup every 15-20 minutes until the beans were done. There is no need to stir the beans -- just keep them submerged in water. (Note: If you're concerned about any dirt or imperfections on the beans, blanch them before this step by bringing the water and beans to a boil, immediately draining and rinsing the beans, then proceeding with Step 2.)
- After an hour, test a bean by mashing it with a spoon or your fingers. If it splits as halves, keep cooking. If it smushes easily, it’s done simmering.
- Here, if you plan to use it as a shave ice topping, simply add sugar in two to three batches, stirring gently, until dissolved. Decant into a heatproof container and let cool.
- If you plan to make a paste, drain the beans, then add to a food processor, along with the sugar, and process on high until smooth. (If you don't have a food processor or blender, just drain the water, add the sugar directly to the pot, and keep cooking over low heat, mashing as you would mashed potatoes. It should be just fine that way, too.)
- You can choose to stop and use it for your purposes here, but mine is generally too liquid at this step, so I fry it to reach a more paste-like consistency. To do this, heat one to two tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. (You can use more for a silkier, richer mouth feel -- Chinese mooncakes, for instance incorporate quite a bit of lard into the red bean paste.) Pour the paste into the pan and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring consistently, until the paste begins to reach desired consistency.
- Finally, you can choose to strain out the biggest pieces of bean skin if you want to. Do so by pushing the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. I did one batch straining the skin and one batch with skin intact -- the taste and texture difference was negligible, if discernible at all.
- And you’re done! The paste can be used as a filling for everything from steamed buns to mochi to just spread on toast. Enjoy!