This weekend it is Spring Higan（彼岸） in Japan. Higan is a Buddhist holiday and we have 2 Higans in a year, one in Spring and the other in the fall. It is always around Spring and Autumnal Equinox. People visit their family grave during Higan holiday. I spoke with my mother today and she said she was at our family grave yesterday.
We make a special sweets called “Botamochi” for Higan in spring. We make the same sweets for fall Higan too but then it changes its name to “Ohagi”. I think it comes from this Japanese culture of appreciating seasonal things so highly, “Botamochi” is named after the spring flower “Botan” (Peony) and “Ohagi” is from the fall flower of “Hagi” (Lespedeza). When the season changes, the flowers change, and the name of sweets changes accordingly.
Today I made small Botamochi and served it in Dango style.
To make Botamochi you need to cook Azuki beans to make sweet Azuki bean paste called “Anko （あんこ）”. When cooking Azuki beans:
1. You do not soak Azuki beans in water before cooking
2. When you cook Azuki, you start with very high heat
3. When adding sugar, you add it in several separate times
Rinse 250g Azuki beans gently in cold water. Put the beans in a pot and add 1 L cold water. Put on high heat and cook until it boils.
When it starts to boil, drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cold water, put them in a clean pot and cover them with 1 L of fresh cold water. Again put it on high heat. Azuki beans have a character that they absorb water and get cooked better when the temperature of the cooking water changes. It is a kind of temperature shock and the bean’s skin stretches and it cooks better.
After it has reached boiling temperature again reduce the heat to medium heat and simmer. Azuki beans cook well at a temperature just below boiling about 90℃. You can add a 1/4 cup of fresh cold water under cooking, we call it a “Bikkuri Mizu” (a surprise water) in Japanese, it is really to bring the cooking water’s temperature shockingly down to attain the good results when cooking Azuki beans. In this term, a pressure cooker cooks faster but I find it too high heat for Azuki beans and it is difficult to benefit from this shocking tricks in the sealed high pressure environment.
When the beans are cooked and soft about after 30-40 min, discard 2/3 cooking water, add 200g sugar (I put sugar about 80% of the bean’s weight. You can add more sugar if you like really sweet one). Do not add the whole amount of sugar at once. If you do that sugar absorbs water in the beans and the beans get tough. Add sugar in 3-4 separate times.
If you discard all the cooking water and make paste, you get “Anko- red bean paste”.