How to cook Azuki beans and make Anko (sweet red bean paste)

 

No.198

 

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.

 

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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
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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.

 

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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”.

 

Bon Appetite!
xxx Rie

 

 

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Gobo, Burdock Root, Salsifis

No.197

We are lucky to have this vegetable in Norway, it is called Gobo (牛蒡)in Japanese and Storborre or Storborrerot in Norwegian. I think it is called Burdock Root in English and Salsifis in French. If I am making a mistake here, please let me know, I will correct it!!

I buy Gobo at Mega Coop in Bekkestua, this is my little shopping tips for you who live in Oslo 🙂 but I am sure there are other stores in town who sell it.  It is kind of a super mysterious vegetable for many Norwegian, they once told me that it is nothing but a weed and they could not think of it as a food they eat.

In Japan we eat Gobo all year around. It may not look so elegant,

 

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but it is a healthy vegetable!

The biggest difference between Japanese Gobo and the one I get here is the fragrance.
Japanese Gobo is a lot more fragrant and the skin part is much thinner. This is a root vegetable. When the soil and the climate is so different I think a lot of root vegetables are of its own charactor (except for carrot and onion).

I remove the skin part by scrubbing with a clean scourer. You can also use and scrape with the spine of your kitchen knife but be careful with the blade. Wash and clean it with water and you should cut it right away as it starts discoloration.

Prepare a big bowl of water and add 1/2 tea spoon of vinegar in it.
Whittle the Gobo and shave it like you sharpen a pencil

 

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and soak the shaves into the bowl. After 4-5 minutes, the water has turned its color to brownish, you can take Gobo shaves out of the water and pat dry.

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Heat a fry pan, add sesame oil and sautee with carrots and season.
– 200g Gobo
– 30g carrot
– Sugar 1 table spoon
– Mirin 1 table spoon
– Soy sauce 2 table spoons

Sprinkle some white sesame seeds before serving and here is a very typical Japanese dish called “Kinpira Gobo” 

It makes a good side dish in your bento as well.

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Bon Appetit!
xxx Rie

 

Nitamago 煮卵 

No.191

 

Hard or soft boiled eggs which are soaked in soy-sauce based marinade over night are called Nitamago (煮卵)in Japanese, it is a great garnish in Ramen and our bento!  I love Nitamago very much, its mild egg whites get colored and flavored and it looks more “elaborate” in our bento than just ordinary boiled eggs but if you take a look at the recipe,  Nitamago is not difficult to make, it just requires time. You must allow it to get flavors over night and time will take care of the rest. If you have prepared the marinade right, all you have to do is to patiently wait.

 

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Before I boil eggs, I always take them out of the fridge and bring them to the room temperature.  About cooking perfect boiled eggs, I wrote this experiment post before, but in this Nitamago recipe, I chose to boil 3 eggs for 7 minutes in boiling water.

After you boiled them, take them out in cold water and leave them for 10 minutes.

While you wait, you can make the marinade.

Marinade for Nitamago (3 eggs)
Soy sauce     2 table spoons

Sake              2 table spoons
Cane sugar     1 tea spoon 
Mirin             1 tea spoon

 

Mix these in a small sauce pan and heat until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Peel the egg shells and pat dry the eggs with kitchen paper.

Put the eggs in a small container and pour the marinade over them.

Leave it in the sauce over night.

If you can rotate them occasionally they will get the color evenly.

After 7 hours of rest and some rotating, they look like this:

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I cut one egg in half and had it in my bento.
It was very tasty!!

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The marinade can be used as a cooking sauce, so please do not discard.

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I fried Shiitake mushrooms with olive oil and pour this marinade over them. Voila, you get Shiitake Teriyaki!!

2 big fresh Shiitake mushrooms
2 tea spoons of Nitamago marinade

I hope you can try these!
 

xxx Rie