Couldn’t decide whether to call this a “dip” or a “puree.” One reeks of Superbowl parties and Midwestern soccer moms, and the other sounds like a French chef with a nosebleed charging €10 for what is essentially baby food swirled onto a white plate. Dip – for now.
I miss hummus. Sometimes I order chickpeas from the Foreign Buyers’ Club and make it, but that’s not very practical. So I have an alternative for you: behold, the azuki (小豆) bean. When my friend Natalie mentioned making a sort of hummus from mung beans, I knew I had to try to make a bean dip with the cheaper, more accessible Japanese beans. And it just so happened I had a container of freshly cooked azuki in my fridge. Hence, the azuki-sesame dip was born.
Oh, but first – a little background. You, my chubby sweets-lovin’ gaijin reader, are probably most familiar with azuki in their mashed, sweetened form, when they’re called anko (never confuse with unko) and injected into everything from mochi to bread rolls. But azuki doesn’t have to be sweet! I’ve found it to be an incredibly versatile bean – soft and velvety when cooked, easily added to stir fries, brown rice, or blended into smoothies for protein. You can buy a dry 500g bag for a little under ¥300, which when cooked becomes an entire pot of beans capable of taking you 3-4 days through the week. Compare that to the paltry 120g cooked pouches on sale for ¥200. That’s 278% more per gram! Absurdity! Who are these cooked-bean racketeers and why do we allow them to make a mockery of us?
Don’t be hesitant to make dried beans – I know I was at first, especially after a split pea project that involved me simmering dried lentils for 2 days until they were finally soft enough to eat (turns out the beans were really, really old). Preparing dried beans requires a little forethought (thrift beats laziness in this situation):
1. At least 8 hours (morning of) but no more than 24 hours (previous night) before you want to cook them, put the beans in a pot and cover with water. I learned the hard way why you can’t leave beans to soak too long – they will begin to sprout!
2. Put the lid on to keep dust and foreign elements out.
3. Go live life and come back. Drain the water from the beans and replace with new water. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are soft enough when bitten but not mushy – about 45 minutes.
If you want to add salt, do so during the last 10 minutes of cooking; adding any beforehand will toughen your beans (FYI: this is true with corn on the cob, too).
So you have the beans – now what? Well, here’s what you need – all of it can be found at your local super:
Lemon juice, fresh is best but whatever, you already made beans, have a glass of wine instead.
Azuki, once soaked, will increase in size.
Shirogoma white sesame paste (known as tahini elsewhere in the world) is sold at most larger supermarkets. It can seem a bit expensive, but you only need a small amount for each batch of hummus you make.
Olive oil. I find this to be one of the most crucial factors in a hummus-like dip, but you could theoretically use a different type of oil.
Garlic. Raw garlic is strong. Use only one clove or even a half clove if you’re sensitive to the taste.
Salt and paprika. These are the basics of a hummus-style bean dip – from here you can get creative and add different spices, herbs, spinach, or even washoku it up with a few drops of soy sauce, rice vinegar, or nama miso. The world of bean dip is yours to mash.
Speaking of mashing, that’s really all you need to do.
1. Pour a half cup of beans in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, a teaspoon or two of white sesame paste, and a teaspoon of lemon juice.
2. Add chopped, pulverized garlic and seasonings to taste.
3. Then take the back of a fork and mash, mash, mash until the mixture starts to look uniformly flecked. Don’t be worried if there are still a few chunks – without a food processor or blender, it’s unlikely you’ll reach a smooth consistency unless you’re willing to put your back into it for an hour. This is how I usually make guacamole, since every time I try with a food processor, the consistency becomes so smooth it feels like it came from a factory.
By the way, if you DO have a food processor – and I highly, highly recommend investing the ¥4000 yen in one – throw everything in, pulse, and you’re done.
You can put a dollop on salad, scoop it up with rice crackers, or eat it my favorite way – with vegetables. Cut a few daikon, carrots, and cucumbers into sticks and use them to scoop up the dip. If you run out of veggie sticks, and you’re by yourself, eat the rest with a spoon and then finally your fingers while hunched over the sink, the softly humming green fluorescent light as your only witness.