Japanese basics: Osekihan (Sekihan), Festive Japanese Red Rice and Beans
I haven't posted a basic Japanese recipe here in quite a while, so it's about time I did again! The main basic here is the method for cooking sweet rice.
Osekihan (お赤飯) means "red rice" (actually, 'honorable red rice' would be a literal translation, since the o makes it honorable). It's a holiday or special occasion dish in Japan, mainly because of its red (actually a very pleasing purplish-brown) color and the azuki beans in it (Beans are a symbol of good luck and fertility). It can be eaten at any time though - I made this batch for our annual Oscar-watching party.
Sweet rice is otherwise known as sticky rice, glutinous rice, or short grain rice. The Japanese characters usually used on packages are もち米 - mochigome or mochimai (mochi rice). Mochi is a very sticky gluey substance made by pounding the sweet rice. It is not the same as regular Japanese style rice ( うるち米 - uruchimai), which is also sometimes called short grain rice. It might be more accurate to call that kind of rice medium-grain rice; it's the same kind of rice in many ways as rices such as arborio and vialone.
Sweet or sticky rice grains are almost round, and when cooked have a very sticky, glutinous texture. People seem to love this or hate it. I love it, whether it's cooked as osekihan, or with various vegetables and meat and steamed in little bamboo leaf packets as chimaki, or wrapped in lotus leaves and similarly steamed with meat and vegetables Chinese style.
Now, if you have read my previous entry about the unreasonable choice of sweet rice or sticky rice as an ingredient for a 50 minute cooking challenge, you will know that sweet rice just has to be soaked in water for a while before cooking to fully cook it and bring out that characteristically gluey texture. My mother always soaks it overnight, and that is what I do. You can get away with soaking it for just an hour though.
Azuki beans are, next to soy beans, one of the most beloved beans in Japanese cooking. The most common use for them is in sweets, where they are turned into a paste called an. As I've said here before, I'm really not a big fan of an, but I love the azuki beans in osekihan - slightly al dente, and a good foil to the gluey sticky rice. It's the azuki beans that give the red color to this dish.
Osekihan is usually served at room temperature, with a sprinkling of gomashio, which is sesame seeds mixed with salt. You can buy readymade gomashio, but I don't like to since I think that premade gomashio tends to be too heavy on the salt. So I make my own as I need it - the simple instructions follow.
A note for people watching their calories: osekihan is very filling, what with the sticky rice and the beans. A small bowl goes a long way. And of course, it's fat-free, unless you count the small amount of fat in the sesame seeds.
- 3 cups of sweet (sticky) rice
- 1/2 cups azuki beans
- 1/2 tsp. salt
Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water is clear, then soak in fresh water for at least one hour, preferably overnight. (See this article for a step-by-step illustration of how to wash rice.) Drain the rice into a sieve at least one hour before you plan to cook it.
Wash the azuki beans. Put in a small pan with 2 cups of water, and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid. Keep the beans covered so they don't dry out.
When the cooking liquid has cooled, measure it and add enough water to it to make 3 cups. If you have a rice cooker, put the rice, beans, water and salt into the cooker and switch on. If you don't have a rice cooker, put all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed pan, bring to a boil then lower the heat to low, put on a lid and let it steam-cook for 20 minutes, then switch off the heat and leave the lid on for an additional 20 minutes.
Serve at room temperature with a sprinkling of gomashio.
Link to a much better recipe for gomashio than the one I had here previously!