The Japanese version of sweetened red bean paste is popular in many parts of Asia as a filling for cakes, pastries and rice-based sweets (such as mochi) as well as a topping for shaved ice and ice cream. It's also added to soups and rice dishes, including Eight Treasure Rice. And of course, you can eat it eaten alone. Made from azuki beans, anko is simple to prepare (most of the time is for soaking). Our recipe yields a cross between smooth and chunky anko. If you prefer it sweeter, feel free to add more sugar.
Place the beans in a medium bowl and add enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Cover and refrigerate until the beans have swelled, about 8 hours or up to 24 hours.
Drain the beans and transfer to a 5-quart Dutch oven or medium saucepan. Add 4 cups cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Drain the beans, then combine them with the baking soda in the same pot. Fill the pot with another 4 cups cold water, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Remove the lid, reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very soft, about 45 minutes. Add warm water as needed to keep the beans covered.
Drain the beans, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Clean the pot and set aside. Transfer the beans to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until most of them are broken down, about 10 to 15 pulses. If the beans aren’t moving much in the food processor, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.
Return the beans to the cleaned pot and add the sugar, oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the paste is thick enough for you to see the bottom of the pot when you run a spatula across it, 10 to 20 minutes.
Transfer the paste to a baking sheet or wide shallow bowl, spread it out evenly and let cool completely. It will thicken as it cools. The cooled bean paste can be used immediately or stored in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or in a resealable plastic freezer bag in the freezer for up to 3 months.
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