Anko - 餡

I keep having these Japanese cravings from time to time. It's something that always comes back. I suddenly get all crazy about Japanese food, bentos or anime and I need to make something. You can't know a culture until you've tasted its food. It's like walking a mile in someones shoes, but then the food variant. In my mind it all makes sense.

I have this feeling that anyone who hasn't tasted anko before is going to think it looks... odd. I admit it doesn't really look smashing (instead it looks smashed), but I promise you it tastes amazing! And it's really healthy! In East Asia azuki beans are prized for their health benefits. They are rich in minerals and vitamins. They're low in calories (compared to other beans) and contain lots of healthy fibers and proteins. So what're you waiting for?

Anko (Azuki bean paste)
about 500 grams (1 small bowl) - by Just One Cookbook and Savory Japan

200 grams azuki beans
200 grams sugar
Pinch of salt or soy sauce

1. Leave the beans to soak overnight. (You'll need 10 times longer to cook the beans soft if you don't.)
2. Take a large pan and bring the beans to a boil with about double the amount of water. Leave to boil for about 5 minutes, then drain the water. This blanching is done to remove the bitterness and make the beans easier to digest.
3. Put the beans back in the pan, cover with water and bring to a boil again. Leave to simmer on medium heat until the beans are soft. This could take up to 1 hour. Make sure to check frequently, give it a stir and add extra cold water when needed.
4. Once the beans are soft, add the sugar and stir. Leave to cook, while stirring, for about 20 minutes until you get the consistency of a thick paste (it will turn thicker after cooling). If you scrape the bottom with a spoon the anko should very slowly fall back in place. Stir in a pinch of salt or soy sauce once you feel the paste is done.
5. Take off the heat and blender it into a smooth paste (Tsubushian) before you leave it to cool, or cool it straight away so you get a chunky texture (Tsubuan). *

* Pressing it through a sieve to remove the skins will give you an even softer paste (Koshian).

Now the azuki bean paste is done! You can freeze it if you are not yet sure what to do with it, or eat it straight away. You can use it for the traditional anpan, dorayaki, daifuku or on dango. Of course you can use it for something less traditional: blend it into smoothies, turning it into ice creams or using it as topping for ice creams and japanese-style sundae's. Or stuff it into white bread dough and bake it. Like I did. Although my technique admittedly needs some work. (Anyone any ideas/tips to prevent those large air pockets?)

On a side note: I hope I used the right japanese characters for anko. I remember writing the names of most of my food in their original language, which often goes unnoticed (except for Mπουγατσα maybe), but with japanese I really can't be sure. Perhaps a Japanese person will read this and tell me to stop trying..

On another side note: does anyone else have these kind of ridiculous cravings that keep coming back from time to time? My cravings for Japanese food don't seem to make any sense! I mean I haven't been there, haven't ever had Japanese food apart from what I made and I don't even know anyone that's Japanese!