Very often you will find sweet red bean (azuki) inside mochi but sometimes the roles are reversed to create this delicious red bean soup. The perfect combination of soft squishy mochi toasted and served inside this sweet soup makes the warmest and cosy comforting dish. It sounds simple but you will see why it’s one of the most popular winter desserts in Japan.
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What Is Red Bean Soup (Oshiruko/Zenzai)?
Red bean soup is a Japanese dessert with soft and chewy mochi served with cooked and sweetened red bean (azuki bean) soup. They are also known as Oshiruko or Zenzai in Japanese. In essence, they are all same kind of sweets, however, Zenzai and Oshiruko differ depending on the region; Kansai and Kanto. I will explain the difference in the below paragraph.
Oshiruko vs Zenzai
Oshiruko is generally referred to red bean soup made from cooked azuki beans served with toasted mochi or shiratama dango. In Kanto region, Oshiruko is cooked and sweetened azuki beans with either toasted mochi or dango whereas in Kansai region, it is the soup made with cooked, strained and smooth sweet azuki beans.
Zenzai is mochi or shiratama dango served with sweet azuki bean paste “Anko” in Kanto region whereas in Kansai region it is toasted mochi or shiratama dango served with cooked and sweetened azuki bean soup and the azuki bean is not strained.
Why You Will Love This Red Bean Soup
- Sweet comfort food of winter in Japan, which warms your body and soul.
- Easy to make – either making from scratch or shortcut using pressure cooker or ready cooked azuki beans.
- Can be served hot or cold.
Azuki Red Beans – Azuki beans have been around in Japan since ancient times. It is even mentioned in Kojiki, Japan’s oldest historical record. Azuki bean is a member of the genus Vigna, the same as mung beans. Azuki bean is available from Japanese or Asian grocery stores or from online stores. Mochi – I have just shared a recipe on how to make it at home. You can also buy commercially made mochi individually packed from Japanese/Asian grocery stores or from an online store. Check out my Amazon shopfront if you need.
How To Make Red Bean Soup?
It is quite simple and easy. Wash the azuki beans in plenty of running water. Cook the azuki beans in plenty of water (see recipe below) Drain the water from the cooked azuki beans because it has an astringent taste. Put the azuki beans back into the pot and simmer them with plenty of water for about 1 hour or till the azuki beans are soft so that you can squish them with your fingertips. Then add sugar and salt to the soup. Toast mochi or make mitarashi dango separately and add into the soup.
Tips & Tricks
- Remove astringent taste by draining the first cooking water
- Add sugar and salt after beans are cooked. If you add sugar and salt before the beans are cooked, the beans will not be softened.
- Adjust the sweetness to your liking between 80-100% of the weight of the beans. I like subtle sweetness so I usually add 80% sugar of azuki beans.
What to Serve Red Bean Soup With?
This dessert soup is best served with pickled daikon radish in my humble opinion. This sweet red bean soup was a staple treat after our cross-country runs. Many school kids run cross-country races just for this treat! I certainly did for this treat alone. And they always served it with pickled daikon. It offsets the sweetness of the oshiruko. Also, pickled daikon and carrot, Salted (shio) Konbu, and Umeboshi are great too.
More Azuki Bean Recipes
A: Yes you can. It will last for a few days in fridge, and you can divide into one portion size in ziplock bag and freeze. It will keep for a month.
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- 1 cup Dried azuki beans *1
- 5 cups water *2
- 3/4 cup sugar *3
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 mochi pieces *4
- 1 tsp roasted sesame seed Optional
- Wash the azuki beans, drain the washing water.
- Place the azuki beans in a pot and add plenty of water (not listed in the ingredients list) *5
- Heat it over high heat and bring the water to boil.
- Discard the cooking water by using a strainer. *6
- Place back the azuki beans in a pot and add 3 cups of water out of the 5 cups listed.
- Heat the pot over high heat and once it boils, reduce the heat to low to mid and simmer for an hour.
- Check occasionally and add water if necessary. *7
- After 1 hour check the azuki beans are cooked or not by squishing a bean with your finger tips.
- If the azuki beans are soft and cooked, add sugar and salt and stir.
- Simmer furthur till the soup reduces a little and becomes thicker.
- Cook mochi by using the grill function of oven or microwave. If you use oven grill, cook for 6-7 minutes, if you use microwave, cook for 1-2 minutes. Watch it does not over cook and explode.
- Stir the bean paste to mix well with water, bring to simmer and add mochi.
- Serve two pieces of toasted mochi with sweet azuki bean soup together in a small soup bowl. Garnish with sesame seeds.
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