3/4 cup azuki beans
7 cups water
½ cup sugar
2 tbs brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Anko (sweet bean paste)

This is the chocolate brown sweet bean filling that is encased in ohagi (glutinous rice cakes), anpan (rolls), dorayaki (mini pancakes), etc. It is very easy to make, and economical as well. As desserts go, it’s relatively healthy because the main ingredient is adzuki bean. While it does have a lot of sugar, it has no fat and no dairy products. My recipe uses much less sugar than traditional recipes (as anko is supposed to be very sweet), so try it to see if it is sweet enough before adding additional sugar to taste.

Wash the beans in a colander, removing any foreign matter and loose skins. Add the beans to 2 1/2 cups of cold water in a heavy pot. Bring to a boil for about 10 minutes, and then drain the beans. This will remove any bitterness, and also make the beans easier to digest. Return the beans to the pot (which should be rinsed) and add 3 cups of cold water and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to a simmer, without the lid, for about 30 minutes, or until the water is reduced to a point where it just cover the beans. Add ½ cup cold water and stir, letting it come back to a simmer. Repeat this process every time the water gets low, for a total of 40 minutes, or until the beans are tender. The amount of water will vary, but be careful not to add too much.

Add the white and brown sugar and simmer for 20 minutes. At this point the beans will be very soft and glossy and the jam will be thick. Mash half of the beans with a potato masher (I usually just do this in the pot). Stir constantly, taking care that the paste does not scorch at the bottom, for 10 more minutes, or until the paste is very thick; similar to the consistency of refried beans. Add the salt and soy sauce (this adds a depth of flavor) and stir well before taking the pot off the heat. Cool the paste in the pot and then transfer to a large container to be kept in the fridge. It can keep up to several months. You can use bean paste to fill dumplings, top mini pancakes, or serve with vanilla or green tea ice cream for a Japanese style sundae.