Happy Duan Wu Jie! (端午節） I wanted to post a recipe for zongzi (Sticky rice and filling wrapped in bamboo leaves) because today is the Dragon Boat Festival or the DuanWu Festival, but I realized that most people don’t attempt these sorts of intense kitchen projects on a normal basis. I spent the good part of Saturday evening and Sunday morning soaking rice, soaking peanuts, boiling peanuts, soaking bamboo leaves, roasting peanuts, skinning peanuts, crushing peanuts, braising pork, dicing dried shrimp…and wrapping 30+ zongzi, all while fighting the splitting bamboo leaves (which had been soaked for several hours, too!) Whew! Just hearing the list makes me tired again.
(Oh, and zongzi are a traditional food eaten for Duan Wu Jie, which I believe involves dragon boat racing. Beyond that, I don’t know and am not curious to know more; I just take it as an excuse to eat more zongzi! )
Usually, big projects give me a boost of adrenaline, but this time was really tiring, and I feel like it made me burned out and I didn’t feel like anything requiring too much brainpower the whole week..
So, all I have to share with y’all today is a simple recipe for what most people call Dou Sha 豆沙, or red bean paste. Red beans are cooked to an oblivion, then toasted until they are dry, and mixed with fat and sugar to make a smooth paste that is fit for desserts of all kinds. According to a can I saw at the grocery store, this can also be called hong dou sha （紅豆沙），because it specifically uses hong dou, or red beans, as opposed to black beans, which can also be used to make a sweetened bean paste.
How do you use dou sha? Dou sha is carb’s best friend, and is a filling for all sorts of carby delights: bao zi (steamed buns), sweet zongzi, different breads (one of my favorite Chinese bakery breads was a fluffy white loaf with streaks of dou sha running through the center), jian dui (deep fried sesame balls), ba bao fan (8 treasure sticky rice dessert), and whatever else you fancy.
Sweet Red Bean Paste
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
200 grams red beans (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup oil (or lard)
1/2 cup sugar (brown or white)
1) Soak the red beans in water (enough to cover them by about an inch) overnight.
2) Dump the soaking water. Add enough new water to cover the red beans by about 2 inches.
3) Cook the red beans until the skins burst, and they are soft and mushy. You can do this in a rice cooker (2-3 cycles will do it), slow cooker, pressure cooker, stovetop..whatever you want. The stovetop method will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
4) There’s a few ways to do the next step: For really smooth dou sha, you can pass the cooked red beans through a sieve. You could also blend everything in a food processor for semi smoothness. For chunky and rustic dou sha, just leave everything be. Take your pick.
5) Transfer the cooked and processed (or not) red beans and the now-sludgy cooking water, to a saucepan.
6) Cook over low to medium low heat until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan, signaling the drying-out of the red beans. This is an important step to achieve a beany, toasty tasting bean paste.
7) Continue to cook, and add the oil (or lard) and sugar to the red beans. Once the sugar dissolves, the red bean paste will be darker and look more similar to the color you see in those cans. Once the sugar and oil are well-incorporated into the red bean paste, scrape out as much of the bean paste as possible into a container. Store in the fridge for a week, or freeze for longer storage.
-Usually I try to err on less sweet. This dou sha may be on the sweeter side for some Asian tastebuds, but trust me on this one! Once it is used as a filling, it will taste right. Cutting the sugar could make one question if it is a dessert of not..
-Why do you need to get to step 6? A chef I respect told me once, that a very basic level, cooking is removing water from food. In this case, you want to remove as much water as possible from the beans, so you can taste the bean, not the water.
-Most canned red bean pastes either have 1) no fat or 2) too much fat! The fat-free-claiming red bean pastes have water, red beans, and sugar. The red bean taste is really weak due to the abundance of water. Other red bean pastes just have so much fat in them that they taste more greasy/oily than red-beany.
-When used as a filling, some may say that the chunky red bean paste is more often called hong dou (紅豆), rather than dou sha (豆沙）, but if my grandma can call the chunky stuff dou sha, nevermind what they say. Popo’s naming conventions are good enough for me!!