Thursday, January 24, 2008

Adzuki croquettes

"azuki togō ka, hito totte kuō ka? shoki shoki."*

* "Will I grind my adzuki beans, or will I get a person to eat? shoki shoki."

This little ditty is sung by Azukiarai, a macabre river-dwelling creature of Japanese legend, who, when he isn’t rinsing his adzuki beans in running water, is grinding them to a powder in a skull. A human one presumably, given those lyrics. A little odd, yes, in an Iron Chef, inscrutable kind of way. Considering the reputed healing powers of the adzuki I’m not surprised this fellow is obsessed with them, though I cannot condone, nor fathom, his fondness for human flesh. Besides, there’s enough protein in those little red beans to keep one happy, healthy and nourished without resorting to...well, whatever it is that he does.

Adzuki beans are easy on the digestion and require no (or precious little) soaking. Their inherent sweetness, coupled with a tendency to cook down to a creamy, red-flecked mass makes cooking desserts with them a natural to the Oriental palate. There you’ll find sweetened red bean pastes, cakes and a creamy, dairy-free sorbet quite unlike any other. An elusive flavour it has, difficult to put an exacting finger on. My step-sons loved it right up until the moment they learned it consisted of only red beans, vanilla and sugar. Both were caught with spoons in the pail later on – its light but mealy texture had them hooked, but they needed to go away and think about it for a little while.

Tinned legumes are a necessity of modern life – you can squander an entire afternoon waiting for chickpeas to reach that butter-soft stage (not to mention the twenty four soak required prior to their immersion) - but there are some legumes that are light years ahead in both texture and flavour when cooked from scratch. Tinned adzuki’s tend toward mush which is fine, desirable even, for sweet things but less pleasant in a savoury dish like this. They’ll take an hour, sometimes up to two, to reach tender creamy perfection. If you double the quantity, you’ll find they freeze well (this is true of all home-cooked beans) and you get the added bonus of a mineral-rich broth reputed to cleanse the kidneys. Two meals and a detox. Not bad, eh?

Sit these croquettes on a bed of quickly-wokked carrot, shredded wombok (Napa cabbage) and ginger and this meal is will evoke the exotic flavours of the Orient. It combines a bit of Japanese flavouring, a pungent Korean sauce and a Chinese-ish stir-fry. Oh for such harmony beyond the kitchen walls. Perhaps I could coax even that nasty old Azukiarai into trying this, and maybe, just maybe, he’d abandon his cannibalistic ways.

Adzuki bean croquettes – for 4

Dip, crunch, lick fingers. Repeat. It’s a ritual that appeals enormously. And if the sauce into which you are dipping just happens to be a complex, salty brew, all the better. Get the sauce made while the beans are simmering. The beans themselves are great over rice or even a steaming bowl of quinoa.

For the beans:
1 cup of adzuki beans
1 ¼ litres (5 cups) of water
1 x 5cm (2 inch) piece of kombu
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves
A thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
4 cloves of garlic, whole
2 tablespoons of mirin (or white wine/sherry)
1 tablespoon of oil
2 bay leaves
Sea salt or tamari

Pick over and rinse the beans. Place all of the ingredients except for the salt/tamari in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting, cover with a lid and simmer for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are completely tender.

Remove the kombu, onion, bay leaf, ginger and garlic. Taste, seasoning with salt and/or tamari. Simmer gently for a further 2-3 minutes.

Drain, holding back just a little of the cooking liquid.

To make the croquettes:
2 cups of cooked, drained adzuki beans (see above)
4 spring onions (scallions), finely chopped (greens, too)
1 generous teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Good pinch of sea salt
½ cup of breadcrumbs
½ cup of toasted sesame seeds
Oil, for greasing

Preheat the oven to 200 C (400 F).

Puree the beans, either in a food processor, blender or a food mill (I quite like the texture a food mill gives and you get a bit of an upper body work-out in the process). Don’t be tempted to blitz to a super smooth puree – leave it just a little bit chunky. If the mixture looks a little dry, add a spoonful or two of the reserved cooking liquid.

Tip the beans into a bowl and mix through the spring onions. Crush the Sichuan peppercorns with the salt in a mortar and pestle then stir into the bean mixture. Add the breadcrumbs bit by bit until the dough is stiff enough to shape easily – you may not need them all.

Roll the mixture into small, slightly flattened croquettes – 5-7 cms (about 2-3 inches) is just fine. Make them smaller if you like, finger food-style. Tip the toasted sesame seeds out onto a plate and roll the croquettes around to coat.

Lightly grease a baking sheet and carefully place the croquettes on top. Brush the tops with a little extra oil and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. They should be golden and crisp. Alternatively you can shallow fry them, but I find that baking them makes for a much lighter and, it must be said, less messy meal.

Serve hot, with the following sauce.

Sesame dipping sauce:

This is pungent stuff and much as I love raw garlic, I’ve toned it down just a fraction from Mark Bittman’s original recipe. It’s very salty, very umami and very, very addictive. Consider yourself warned. Serve it in small dishes by the side of each plate. Leftovers (which there will be) make a great marinade.

¼ cup of tamari, shoyu or soy sauce
¼ cup of warm water
2 tablespoons of rice vinegar
1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon of pale sesame oil
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds, toasted until golden in a dry pan
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 small clove of garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon of finely grated ginger
Pinch of chilli powder

Mix everything together until the sugar dissolves. Will keep, refrigerated, for a few days.

I’m submitting this to Susan, the Well Seasoned Cook, who is hosting an event called My Legume Love Affair. Love your beans too? Get posting.


Laurie Constantino said...

I've never had adzuki beans, so this was quite interesting, even without the perfectly illustrative drawing and macabre ditty. Guess I'll have to try these, you've made them sound so appealing. Your pepper picture is another stunner.

Johanna said...

looks delicious (and love the photos) - but the adzuki man is the sort who would have given me nightmares as a child, but I wont hold you to blame if I don't sleep well tonight :-)

Susan said...

I want to pull this coot aside with a warning: "Beware, my lord, of cannibalism..." In the land of adzuki, he should know better.

Lucy, I've only had these little cobblestones stuffed into tender, sweet dumplings. Savory is next on my list. Thank you for this richly red recipe!

Wendy said...

I just made butterbean croquettes tonight and was going to post about them tomorrow night! Bah!
Doesn't that Adzuki man look just like Golem? (sp?)

winedeb said...

I have seen this little guy before but never knew the story! What a little rascal he is! Learn something new everyday!
Are Adzuki beans anything like kidney beans? I will have to check our natural foods store to see if they carry these beans. Your croquettes sound "yumptious"! And the sauce, oh my...:)

Lisa said...

Lucy! I already have my menu planned for tomorrow, but I'm very tempted to change it and make these!! Thank you, thank you, for sharing this recipe. I adore adzuki beans and find there are not a great number of recipes out there for them, and so I'm always on the lookout for new ideas.

As for beans, I never use canned beans. Yes, maybe that makes me a bean snob :) but I do find there is a difference in taste and if I make my own, I can control the cooking time to match my preferences. I find it depends on the age of the beans when it comes to cooking time; the older the bean, the longer the cooking time. I always soak my beans the night before - with the exception of split beans and legumes - and cook them while I prepare ingredients for the rest of the dish. Generally, my chickpeas reach the right consistency in just over an hour.

Liz said...

Wow, I've never had adzuki beans. Is it bad to say that I've never heard of them? Never heard of them, but I'm very intrigued. I haven't had my eyes go this wide over a blog post in a while.

My husband never ate beans before he met me, but I think I might have to fib a little if these taste sweet:). Sort of like with your stepsons.

Truffle said...

Sensational photos Lucy. Sounds like a fabulous combination of flavours.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Mmmm.... Yummy! I haven't had adzuki beans in, erm, years, and have certainly never made croquettes with them. Great inspiration!

Simona said...

Lovely, as usual, from the initial chuckle to the final sauce. I am definitely tempted.

Ricki said...

What an interesting story! As always, your photos are amazing.

I've had red bean pastries but never tried them in savory dishes. I must say, these sound delicious--definitely want to give them a try.

Callipygia said...

I too have puzzled over how to do adzuki in a savory way, since all the stews are usually quite sweet with some sort of squash. I think it is a brilliant pairing with the pucker/salt of the sauce! I have been playing with the idea of grinding the beans before cooking and mixing with water or coconut milk to do an idian dosa or a korean style bindae duk (made from ground mung). Here is to umami-fying the sweet bean!

katiez said...

I did not know that adzuki beans were the 'red bean paste'.
Of course, I can't find them here, but now at I have a good reason to look. Hilarious bit about the step-sons. Mine was the same it until he knew what it was, then had to think a bit!
Your little gut reminds me of an embrodiary we have - we just call him 'Ugly'

Lucy said...

Laurie, I discovered them when I was studying a component of a Naturopathy degree and have been in love ever since!

Oh, Johanna! Sincere apologies for the bad dreams;-) He's a weirdo, isn't he?

Let's, Susan. And teach him a thing or two about the power of beans in the process. I will send him your way when the event is in full swing! Think you'll the beans cooked this way - they are surprisingly delicate and light given their rich seasonings.

Golem - yes! Wendy, when I was researching him I was trying to think who he reminded me of...sorry to have pipped you at the proverbial post! Post your recipe please - I cannot get enough recipes for white beans (love that potato-y, creamy texture).

He's quite the character, Deb! They are, in a way I suppose, shaped and coloured like kidney beans but are about half the size. In flavour they lie somewhere between a lentil and a creamy, larger, bean. I found mine easily because many people sprout them, too. (Highly recommended, by the way!).

Lisa, there's a recipe you posted a few months ago that hooked me on them in savoury things - Madhur Jaffrey if I recall - and have made several times since! I'm with you on the beans, especially chickpeas, despite my thoughts on tinned ones. Fellow bean snob over here!! Treated myself to a pressure cooker almost 2 years ago and it makes light work of all sorts of legume dishes, soaked or unsoaked. Good for last minute menu changes...

Not a bad thing at all Liz! For years they've been the darlings of Macrobiotic cooks for all their nutritional goodness. I'm thrilled that you've had an interest tweaked by the post. Hope you manage to find some.

Thanks Truffle - a nice balance of salty, sweet and sour. Glad you're home again!

Hi Forkful (do you mind my shortening of your gorgeous name?) - glad to have been able to inspire you!

Excellent, Simona. Tempted, despite that nasty little bloke!

Rikki, they're Fantastic, Superb, Amazing for weight loss too (so my sources tell me).

Calli, I too find that combination of sweet squash with the sweet bean too over-powering (a woman can only take so much sweetness...). If you post a recipe for bindae duk, I will be OVER the moon! These little beans are just ripe for playing with...

He he, Katie! Should have seen their faces drop when I told them what was in it...priceless!

Anh said...

Lucy, wonderful just wonderful!!! I love the recipe, the writing and the photos! Thanks for a wonderful use of Adzuki bean, one of my fav ingredients!!!

Nora B. said...

Dear Lucy,
That was such a terrific post. Love all the photos esp that serving spoon. This meal sounds delicious, nourishing and so satisfying. Glad that it can be oven baked. I've never had adzuki croquettes, I would imagine that my palate would be thrilled with this combination of flavours, especially the addictive dipping sauce.

p/s: I confess to using canned chickpeas often...

Rosa said...

I love sprouted adzuki beans but had never thought to cook them in a traditional bean-like way. I'm looking forward to trying this unusual recipe!

Shaun said...

Lucy ~ What a dream of a post. I have never seen adzuki beans in the flesh, so it is pleasant to see the beans here, before being appropriated and turned into delicious morsels. The dipping sauce, garlicky and rich with sesame, sounds like a perfect pairing. I have yet to consider my submission for Susan's event.

Lucy said...

Anh, how do you use adzuki's? I'd love to know...

Oh, Nora, that dipping's very addictive and makes a great tofu marinade I've discovered, too.

Rosa, I think you'll like them, especially as you know how lovely they are when sprouted.

Thanks Shaun - they are a little wonder of a bean. Looking forward to youyr submission - thing is there are nearly as many ways to approach a legume as there are cooks!