SOS Adzuki Beans: Asian-Inspired Red Bean Pastry Cookies

When I was growing up, “Chinese Food” meant gelatinous, hot pink chicken and pineapple balls, chop suey (bean sprouts, frozen peas and carrots and some white rice in soy sauce), and egg rolls as greasy as Elvis’s pompadour.  It wasn’t until my undergraduate years at the University of Windsor that I first tasted authentic Chinese food. 

I know, Windsor, Ontario doesn’t exactly strike one as the hub of all things Oriental.  In those days, though, Windsor was (and for all I know, may still be) the Canadian college with the largest percentage of Chinese students (at about 45%). Why?  There were many theories (such as ” it’s a great way to get into the States, being so close”; or “it has the lowest standard for English-as-a-second-language requirements”), but my favorite was “it’s the southernmost city in Canada (further south than its American cousin, Detroit), so when potential students consulted a map, they likely decided it must also be the warmest city and chose it before all others. 

(All I can say is, it’s been winter since the end of October.  So, how do you like Windsor now?)

Perhaps surprisingly, my entrée into the world of authentic Chinese dining was facilitated not by a Chinese person, but a native (Caucasian) Windsorite. 

RB, a fellow undergraduate English major, was much taller than I at 5 feet 7 inches (just over 170 cm) and had what we call “big-bones.” Yet she also somehow always struck me as fragile.  With impeccable posture, she trailed a mane of undulating, naturally auburn hair; and her skin was so pale, smooth and translucent it reminded me of my mom’s antique teacups.  While not classically “pretty,” RB was certainly uniquely attractive.  Even her voice, quiet and steady like a breeze in autumn, seemed too soft for the heft of her body.  When she spoke it was barely above a whisper.

But it wasn’t her physical attributes of which I was envious; it was her mind. You see,  RB was another protégé of my mentor, Dr. Ditsky, and he frequently called on her in class to “save us” when no one volunteered to answer his question (when he called on me for the same purpose, my cheeks usually flushed red and I stammered something unintelligible). But RB always rose to the challenge, fairly offering a lecture of her own on occasion. 

RB was, quite simply, brilliant.  Like, Bill Gates brilliant. Mozart brilliant.  Marilyn Vos Savant brilliant. A Beautiful Mind brilliant (well, without the encrypted magazine articles and hallucinatory FBI agents, of course).

I will never forget her final essay for our Faulkner course:  a 50-odd page treatise on “Deconstructing The Sound and the Fury: Parallels and Pedantry in Godel, Escher, Bach.”  Well, I, too, had purchased Godel, Escher, Bach out of curiosity (like the rest of the academic population in the 1980s) and could barely get through the first 10 pages (even that took me a couple of hours).  Yet here was RB, composing an entire essay (which, presumably, she actually understood!) that used it as a basis for comparison.

RB also had the ability to acquire information–particularly languages–as easily as I acquired cookbooks. She loved the fact that Windsor was an “international” city welcoming people from all over the world.  One day, she decided that she loved Chinese culture the most.  Within a couple of months, she was teaching herself Cantonese with the aid of tapes and a book.  I’d notice her hunched over a table in the cafeteria, madly scribbling little curlicues and pictograms across her notebooks.  She’d emit guttural sounds in the back of her throat as she walked by in the hallways.  After another couple of months, her gorgeous auburn hair had been shorn in a tight pageboy and dyed jet black.  If there had existed a counterpart to gender reassignment surgery called “Cultural Reassignment surgery,”her name would have been at the top of the list.

Eventually, RB married a man from Hong Kong whom she’d met at a dim sum restaurant.  (She was writing a postcard–in Chinese–to a friend as he walked by; he glanced at the card, asked, “Do you actually understand that stuff?” and when she nodded, he sat down to join her. Less than a year later they were married.) 

[It may not be a whole lotus bean inside, but it's still delicious.]

Given her affinity for all things Chinese, it’s no wonder that RB eventually took me to her favorite spot for Dim Sum.  Right there on Wyandotte Street, just steps from the university dormitory, was a fantastic dim sum restaurant. It was so authentic, in fact, that none of the servers really spoke English, and orders were given by patrons who wrote their choices (in Chinese) on little slips of paper.  Of course, RB was proficient in the language, so she served as translator and placed the order.

I won’t dwell on the meal itself, which involved various steamed buns, pan-fried dumplings, noodles and RB’s favorite–chicken feet. (The image of her sucking on their splayed, pointy tips will forever be branded in my memory).  But it was the dessert that proved to be a revelation.  That day was the first time I tried steamed lotus seed buns, and I ate them every time I could after that.  The white, spongey and barely sweet buns encased a whole lotus bean, cooked until soft and squishy.  Imagine, if you will, a medjool date that’s even softer and sweeter than normal, served slightly warm and caramelized–that’s what the lotus bean tasted like. I loved them instantly.  When I moved to Toronto with its three Chinatowns, I anticipated more of the same, and was sadly disappointed to learn that the buns made here, while tasty, contained red bean paste instead of lotus seeds.

Well, today’s SOS offering is my take on that pastry.  I had actually attempted a steamed bun first (based on this recipe–which, I later realized, is Japanese), but steaming instead of frying resulted in a mess of white and red goo, a little too reminiscent of the goo splattered all over Tommy Lee Jones when Will Smith shoots the alien at the end of Men in Black. Attempt number two involved actually frying the balls as directed–I was going to beg your forgiveness if they worked out–but those, alas, were also fairly gooey inside, very greasy on the outside, and clearly not orb-like. 

So, I went back to what I do better: cookies!  In keeping with the Asian theme, I used rice flour (two types) filled with red bean paste.  The cookie itself is crisp and light, while the dense paste inside provides a pleasant surprise with its textural contrast.  And while they’re not authentic, they were delicious. I bet even RB would approve.  

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I’ve submitted this recipe to Amy’s weekly Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays event. Check out all the healthier recipes there!

Last Year at this TimeWarm Chickpea and Artichoke Salad

Two Years Ago: Blog break

Three Years Ago: Bittersweet Salad with Apples and Dandelion Greens (ACD Stage 2 and beyond–use lemon juice instead of orange)

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Comments

  1. I was thinking these beans would make a good bean paste for a cookie. Yum!

  2. I’m pretty sure this is the first cookie recipe using beans I’ve ever seen, though thinking back, I must have had something like this at a Chinese restaurant at some point.

    Anyway, it looks delicious, I may have to give it a try.

    • They often serve something similar at Chinese restaurants. It took me a while to get used to the bean texture in a cookie, but now I love the filling!

  3. I love red bean paste filled sweets, they are so good.
    I must agree though, while red bean paste is great, the lotus is the very best! Though it kind of reminds me more of peanut butter than a date.

  4. Oh, my God, Ricki, you are too much … what a tale with RB and her transformation rivaling a gender reassignment, how she met her future husband, and all your imagery along the way. And, wow, a 50-page treatise that involved Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury! And, this bean recipe … genius, per usual. I haven’t tried adzuki beans yet (although I have had field peas, which you said is another name for them, but I don’t think they were the same). However, I know how great your Almond-Cinnamon Fudge is and beans play a major role there. These look really lovely, Ricki!

    Shirley

    • She really was something else–totally brilliant. I’ve never had field peas, so maybe they aren’t the same thing (can’t always trust websites, right?) ;) But they cook up like any bean, and they do taste good. :)

  5. Oh My! these look and sound AMAZING!!!!!!

  6. You always amaze me with your stories and recipes! These looks amazing! Thank you for sharing Ricki!

  7. Oh, Ricki. You just posted exactly what I was dreaming of when you announced adzuki beans as this month’s ingredient! HOORAY FOREVER!

  8. These look really good! I loooove sweets with adzuki beans. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Thanks so much, Jen! After cooking these up, I realized that I love sweets with them, too. Now if only I can figure out how to make those steamed buns, gluten free. ;)

  9. This recipe brings back fond memories… I myself am half japanese and I used to love red bean japanese sweets! I have not had some in sooo long!!! Im dying to try them. They are not exactly authentic but they look absolutely divine and pretty simple to make. thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

    Teenie Foodie

    • Thanks so much! As I mentioned in the post, I know they’re not authentic, but after two failed daifuku attempts, I decided to create my own red bean cookie! I am happy with the result. Would love to hear what you think if you do give them a try! :)

  10. Enjoyed reading this post – your friend RB sounds fascinating and I love the story of her finding a husband! I still avoid Chinese restaurants because I’ve had so much bad food there – and I haven’t really got into sweet red bean paste – just doesn’t seem right – though I suspect if I am going to learn to love it, one of your recipes might do the trick – sounds like a good one!

    • What I didn’t say here is that her husband, who had lived most of his life in Canada, did not read Chinese! I’m not sure this is the most authentic way to be introduced to red bean paste, but the cookies did taste yummy. ;)

  11. Ricki, what a fascinating story! You should have a publisher. Your books should be available on Amazon and not just on your blog.

  12. What a wonderful recipe, Ricki. I have this association that Chinese food isn’t that healthy – especially what you find in restos- which should be all the ammunition I need to try to make it more healthy at home. Way to go with the red bean dessert. :)

    Btw, I never knew Windsor had so many Asian students.. I always figured Waterloo would top the list. ;)

    • I suspect you’re right when it comes to a lot of North American style Chinese restaurants. Even here in Toronto, where there’s a thriving Chinese community and the food is prepared as it is “back home,” often the oils used are not the best quality or are used over and over, resulting in free radical damage. But made at home, with good quality ingredients, I think most Chinese food is a lot healthier than what most of us normally eat here in Canada and the US! I’m not sure if the stats are still true of Windsor. . . I was there quite some time ago. ;)

  13. There are no words for how excited I am to make these. Yes! Yes! Thank-you!

  14. Ricki,

    These look so wonderful! I lived one year in Japan and my husband lived in China for 2! And he is an English professor. So you can imagine how this recipe and your narrative speak to me!

    I am going to try my hand at your recipe linkup. I have 2 adzuki bean recipes that should work, so I’ll will check back w/ you later this month!

    I will say, however, that I do use xylitol and erythritol b/c as of now I appear to have a sensitivity to stevia. Makes it hard for a candida sufferer like me. Ah well…I am trying to make the best of it and perhaps it will resolve itself.

    • What a lovely coincidence! Hope you do find a recipe to join in the fun. :) And thanks for the clarification re: xylitol/erhythritol–makes sense!

  15. hehe, the image you created of you frying those buns… almost glad it didn’t turn out as these look fantastic :)

  16. Hi Rikki!

    I was searching your blog for a listing of recipes suitable for the ACD diet. Do you have anything like this?

    I am on stage 1 of ACD and am so blessed to have found your site as an amazing resource!

    Thanks :)
    Dana

    • Hi Dana,
      I’m working on a coding system but haven’t managed to update it yet. But if you look at recipes from March, 2009 and for the following 2-4 months after that, they should (mostly) be suitable for Stage 1, since that’s when I was on stage 1 of the diet. The ingredients in the recipes have expanded as I’ve been allowed more. I have also begun to label the recipes in the past year or so as “suitable for ACD Stage 1 and beyond” (or whatever stage applies) as I go. Hope this helps in the meantime! :)

  17. Get Skinny, Go Vegan. says:

    Looks super yummy!!

  18. Just wondering, I don’t have access to chia meal or flax meal; is there anything else I can sub? Would it be possible to use an egg?

  19. I loved the traditional version of these in the sushi shops, i have to try these! ok, I’ll stop commenting now…really…it’s enough already for one night…(:

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  1. [...] addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};Ricki has a great story to go with this recipe for Asian-inspired red bean pastry cookies. [Diet Dessert and [...]

  2. [...] some healthier sugar substitutes to keep the calorie count down.  These biscuits are based on this recipe, which is based on the red bean sweets that are popular in China. I’ve made a few changes [...]

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