Red bean soup refers to various traditional Asian soups made with azuki beans.
A bowl of red bean soup
In China, red bean soup ( 紅豆沙, pinyin: hǒng dòu shā ) is a popular dish. The soup is commonly thinner than the Japanese oshiruko version. It is categorised as a tang shui 糖水, (pinyin: táng shǔi) (literally translated as sugar water), or sweet soup. It is often served cold during the summer, and hot in the winter. Leftover red bean soup can also be frozen to make ice pops and is a popular dessert.
It is one of the main desserts offered after Cantonese cuisine meals in restaurants at night. When served, it is plain most of the time. The fancier restaurants may offer red bean soup with sago ( 西米, pinyin: xī mi ). The two types of sugar used interchangeably are rock sugar and sliced sugar ( 片糖 ).
Shiruko with genmai mochi
Shiruko (汁粉 ), or oshiruko (お汁粉 ) with the honorific “o” (お), is a traditional Japanese dessert. It is a sweet porridge of azuki beans boiled and crushed, served in a bowl with mochi. There are different styles of shiruko, such as shiruko with chestnuts, or with glutinous rice flour dumplings instead of mochi.
There are two types of shiruko based on difference of cooking way of azuki beans. Azuki beans could be turned into paste, crushed without keeping its original shape, or paste and roughly crushed beans are mixed. There is a similar dish, zenzai (善哉、ぜんざい ), which is made from condensed paste with heat and is less watery than shiruko, like making jam or marmalade. In Western Japan, Zenzai refers to a type of shiruko made from mixture of paste and crushed beans. In Okinawa Prefecture, the term “zenzai” commonly refers to this bean soup served over shaved ice with “mochi”. Other toppings, such as sweetened condensed milk, are occasionally added for flavour.
It is loved by many Japanese, especially during the winter. The half-melted sticky mochi and the sweet, warm azuki bean porridge is thought by many to be an absolute delight. Shiruko is frequently served with a side dish of something sour or salty, such as umeboshi or shiokombu to refresh the palate as shiruko is so sweet that the taste may cloy after a while.
In some regions including Kagawa Prefecture, shiruko is also used for zōni, the special soup for New Year celebration.
Patjuk sold by a street vendor in Busan, South Korea
In Korean cuisine, red bean soup is called patjuk (팥죽), and is commonly eaten during the winter season. On Dongjinal, a Korean traditional holiday which falls on December 22, Korean people eat Donji patjuk, which contains saealsim (새알심) meaning bird egg, a ball made from glutinous rice flour, named such due to its resemblance to small bird’s eggs, possibly quail eggs.
In old Korean tradition, patjuk is believed to have a mysterious power to drive evil spirits away. According to Korean traditional folk beliefs, the colour “red” is a symbolic colour of positive energy which can defeat negative energy. Cooking and eating patjuk is a ritual to prevent bad luck, epidemic disease, and comes from evil spirits. Before eating the dish, Korean people used to serve it their own house shrine, they scattered it all around the house like in the kitchen, storage house, gate, yard and so on. These customs have been handed down through Chinese mythological stories. According to Hyungchosesigi, there was a man named Gong Gong. He had a bad son, and after he died he became a god of epidemic disease. Because of his cruel temper, a lot of people were killed by epidemics. Trying to find a solution to prevent infectious diseases, they recalled the fact that the son of Gong Gong hated “red bean soup” when he was alive. Thus, people made red bean soup and scattered it all around the house. And then the epidemics disappeared. Since then, patjuk has been the food that all spirits hate.
Eating patjuk is a ritual to wish for abundant harvests. Ancient Korea was an agrarian society, and a rich harvest has always been a pivotal issue for them. Koreans eat Patjuk(red bean porridge) on Donggi (winter solstice), when the days start becoming longer than nights. When they make Patjuk (red bean porridge) they add small dumplings which were made of rice as the same number as their age. By fully relaxing and eating nourishing health food, they wanted to have a preparation period before starting farming in the spring.
Patjuk embodies a custom of conserving food. Koreans usually eat rice and side dishes. However, in the wintertime when Korean families had shortage of grains, patjuk became a complete meal itself. It could be made of simple ingredients. For example, red beans, water, small grains of rice and also it requires no need extra side dishes. Thus, when people prepare some events in winter, patjuk is an economical food for conserving grain.
Vietnamese cuisine also has a similar dish, called chè đậu đỏ, it contains added coconut milk.
In major cities around Australia, it is sometimes served as complimentary dessert along with fruit, pudding and sometimes cake and biscuits at Cantonese restaurants.
Red bean soup is both a popular snack and a sweet dessert soup. Azuki beans are a "yang" or warming food. Tangerine peel, used in many recipes, is thought to aid digestion.
1 cup azuki beans
6 - 8 cups water
1 strip dried tangerine peel or fresh orange peel
¼ - ½ cup dried lotus seeds
6 - 8 tablespoons brown sugar, as desired
Soak the azuki beans in water overnight to soften. (While the beans won't have completely softened, they will have expanded considerably). Drain.
About 2 hours before making the soup, place the dried lotus seeds in a bowl with enough water to cover.
In a medium saucepan, bring the 6 cups of water with the tangerine peel to a boil. (The soup can be thicker or thinner as desired. Start with 6 cups of water, and then add more boiling water at the end with the brown sugar if you want to thin it a bit.)
Turn the heat down, add the adzuki beans and lotus seeds and simmer, partially covered, for 1 to 1½ hours, until the beans are softened to the point where they are just beginning to break apart.
Add the brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Taste and add more sugar if desired. (Start with ⅓ cup and then add more, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed). Thin the soup by adding boiling water if desired.
Remove the dried tangerine peel before serving. Serve the red bean soup hot or cold.
Azuki beans, dried lotus seeds, and dried tangerine peel are sold in plastic bags in Chinese or Asian markets.