Unlike the usual suspects in the dry bean line up—and this is what makes it the perfect summer bean—the adzuki is primarily used in sweet dishes, such as ice cream, cake and even blender cocktails. In fact, adzuki bean paste, known as “anko,” is the most common confectionary ingredient in Japan, where its deep red color is associated with luck and happiness. I first tried adzuki in a traditional Japanese teacake made with anko (recipe coming up). It was less sweet than I expected, yet very creamy and rich. I’ve been craving more ever since.

Maybe the coolest thing about adzuki-based desserts, though, is that they are relatively healthy. Even compared to other beans, the adzuki has high nutritional value. Take protein, for example: 7 grams per one half-cup cooked beans to black’s 5.6 and garbanzo’s 6.9. And let’s not forget about fiber: 6.1 grams per one half cooked cup compared to fava’s 5, or soy’s 2.6. And on top of all of that, the adzuki has one of the shortest cooking times of all the beans—45 minutes compared to kidney’s 60, or garbanzo’s two to three hours.

The following recipes are all based on traditional Japanese or Chinese dishes. To keep things simple, I have included one all-purpose anko recipe that serves as the base for the other recipes.

Traditional Japanese Anko (Adzuki Bean Paste)

This is the most difficult recipe here, but once you have it as a base, all of the other recipes are a snap.

Ingredients:

1 cup adzuki beans

1/2 cup sugar (brown sugar can be used if preferred)

1/4 teaspoon salt

water

Directions: Soak adzuki beans in water overnight. Heat adzuki beans in a pot with one cup of water. When they come to a boil, add two more cups of cold water. When they come to a boil again, drain the beans in a colander. Return the beans to the pot, add three cups of new water, and cook over high heat. When the beans begin to jump around after the water comes to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer until the beans are soft, about one hour. If necessary, add water so that the beans are always covered. Fastidiously skim off any foam that appears on the surface. When the beans are soft enough to break between your fingers, drain them in a colander. Return the beans to the pot again and mix in the sugar. Mash the beans continuously over medium heat until almost all the water has evaporated and a paste has formed, about 35 minutes. Add the salt and stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and transfer the paste to a container so that it can cool. The paste may be kept in the refrigerator for three days and then frozen. (Makes 2 cups.)

Mizuyokan (red bean cake)

This is the recipe for the teacake that I mentioned above.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup anko

2 cups water

2 pk gelatin, unflavored

1 cup sugar, granulated

pinch of salt

Directions: In a 1-1/2 to 2 quart saucepan, stir together the gelatin, sugar and salt. Pour in 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly. Add the anko and return to a boil, still stirring. Pour into an 8” cake pan, cool and refrigerate overnight or until firm. Slice into 2” wedges and serve as dessert or a sweet course.

Chinese Mooncake

This is probably my favorite recipe here. It is a simplified version of the traditional moon-cake served at the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. They are great served with tea.

Ingredients:

Frozen puff pastry shells

Anko

Egg wash (if desired)

Directions: Remove puff pastry shells from package and brush with egg wash. Bake according to instructions on box (usually 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees). Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, cut shells in half and remove centers, fill bottoms with appropriate amount of anko and replace tops.

Adzuki Bean Ice Cream

This is a great dessert for a sushi dinner. Makes 1 quart.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup anko

2 fresh vanilla beans

1 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Directions: Slice vanilla beans lengthwise down the center. With your fingers, spread beans open, then scrape out and reserve black seeds, discarding pods. Put seeds in a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of the sugar, and mix well. In a medium bowl, combine remaining 3/4 cup sugar, vanilla-sugar combination, and egg yolks, and beat until mixture becomes creamy and turns a pale yellow. Add milk and cream and mix well into a custard-like consistency. Refrigerate until ready to use, preferably overnight. Pour custard into an ice cream-maker and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. About 10 minutes before ice cream is ready, feed 1/2 cup of the anko paste into ice cream-maker. Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container to keep ice cream soft until ready to use.

Adzuki Bean Vodka Smoothie

I was skeptical of this one at first, but one taste and I was convinced. Adzuki and vodka go together like chocolate and peanut butter. And it’s vegan!

Ingredients:

1/2 cup anko

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

2-3 cups ice

1 cup of coconut milk

1/2 of an apricot (or fruit of your choice)

Vodka to taste

Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend at medium speed until smooth.

Adzuki Bean Porridge (Zensai)

This last recipe doesn’t contain anko, but it is simple to prepare and very filling. Zensai is traditionally served at Japanese New Year’s celebrations, but I think it would also make a great soup for summer camping.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dried adzuki beans

1 2/3 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

8 Basic Savory Mochi, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Directions: Place beans in a medium pot, cover with cold water by about 2 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until beans are cooked through, about 55 to 60 minutes. (Beans are done once they mash easily when pressed between your fingers.) Drain beans through a fine mesh strainer and rinse out the pot. Return the pot to the stove and add cooked beans, water, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until cooking liquid has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Stir in mochi, heat through, and serve.

There are lots of other adzuki bean recipes out there, including some awesome savory ones. I hope that you try one of the sweeties above first, though, for a more traditional adzuki experience.