Anko, a.k.a. Mysterious Sweetened Beans

Tsubu an
The finished tsubu an

Sweet beans?  Sounds a little weird maybe if you’re used to beans being only used in savory dishes.  My first introduction to sweetened red bean was at the house of a friend from Taiwan and my thought was “…sweet beans?  Yuck, no thanks.”  But I eventually learned how delicious they can be and now I’m a big fan of anko, also known by the rather unattractive name of “red bean paste.”

Dry bean cooking
Boiling the dry beans

Anko is used in desserts all over East Asia, often as a filling inside a sweet cake or a rice ball.  Sometimes it’s eaten as a soup or on its own as a kind of jelly.  Check out the very informative wikipedia article all about it.

You can buy premade anko, but I find it much simpler to just stock dried adzuki beans (which I can get at a grocery store near my house in bulk) instead of having to special order canned anko.

Skimming froth off the top as the beans cook

I use the recipe for Chunky Red Bean Jam (Tsubu An) from the amazing cookbook Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh.  It doesn’t require any soaking of the beans, which is critical for me because I get impatient when I want to cook something!  It’s a chunky red bean paste, with bits of whole beans in it, which I really enjoy.  Because I love Ms Andoh’s cookbook, I’m not going to post her recipe here, but it’s never failed me for delicious anko and many other great Japanese recipes.  All it requires is some red beans, white and brown sugar, salt, and soy sauce.

Anko making
Adding sugar thickens the liquid into a sauce

What do I use anko for?  Everything I can, when I have some made!  It’s particularly amazing as a hot fudge-style topping on some green tea ice cream.  The cold ice cream and warm anko is the most amazing thing.

It's almost done when the consistency thickens so you can draw a line quickly in it
It’s almost done when the consistency thickens so you can draw a line quickly in it

I also just got a taiyaki pan, which is what this batch of anko in the photos is destined for!  Taiyaki is a fish-shaped cake with anko in the middle that’s often eaten at festivals in Japan.  I love it, but it’s best made fresh and you can’t really find it in the US.

Give “sweet beans” a try if you encounter them and I think you’ll become a fan!

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