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Recipe: Yunnan-style red beans and shiitakes

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Editor's note: Roz Weitzman has been working in China for seven years as an international school principal. An avid cook, Roz has epublished a cookbook entitled "Roz Weitzman's World of Chinese Comfort Food." It can be purchased at both Lulu and Amazon.

Since moving to Kunming she has begun to explore the cooking traditions of Yunnan. More of Roz's recipes can be viewed on her blog (requires proxy) and PDF versions of her book can be obtained by reaching her at roz[at]candismail[dot]com[dot]cn. Bon appétit.

The main ingredient in this dish is the nutritious and colorful azuki bean, but it is also loaded with mushrooms and fresh peppers. The mushrooms used are shiitakes, also known as Chinese black mushrooms or xianggu (香菇). These elements, along with prickly ash and chilis, give the dish a distinctively authentic Yunnan flavor.

The reddish-brown azuki bean — in Chinese called hongdou (红豆) — is grown throughout China and other Asian countries, where it is often combined with sugar to create a filling for sweet desserts and pastries. In Yunnan cuisine, however, azuki beans are often featured in savory preparations.

For this recipe you can adjust the amount of spice according to taste. This dish is delicious and simple to prepare. It can be served as the hearty centerpiece of a vegetarian meal or as a healthy option to be served alongside other dishes.


1 cup dried azuki beans, soaked in water overnight and drained
4 tablespoons oil
4 green onions (both white and green parts) sliced into two centimeter pieces
1 red or green bell pepper, diced into two centimeter chunks
2 fresh red or green chilis, seeded and diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of ginger, minced
15 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water, squeezed to remove excess liquid, and thinly sliced
5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
½ teaspoon prickly ash powder (or to taste)
2 tablespoons sugar


Place the pre-soaked beans in a saucepan and cover with several inches of fresh water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes. Add more water as necessary until the beans are tender and their skins start to separate. Drain the water off, and then crush some of the beans lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside.

Heat oil in a large wok over a medium high flame. Add the green onions, chilis, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Toss in mushrooms and peppers, and stir-fry for two more minutes or until the mushrooms just start to reduce in volume and the peppers start to soften.

Turn heat down to low and add the beans. Stir in the tamari or soy sauce, sesame oil, ground prickly ash powder, and sugar. Cover and simmer on low for at least five minutes or until the liquid has reduced enough to make the mixture fairly dry. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy!

Makes 4-6 servings.

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Image: Roz Weitzman

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Looks tasty. However, I can never get the beans (dried black beans) to become soft and mushy, even if I soak them overnight and simmer for an eternity. Any tips on how to do it properly without a pressure cooker?


When do you add salt? When cooking beans, you should add salt once they are done. Adding salt at the beginning of cooking tends to make them tough.

Adding a touch of baking soda to the water you're boiling the beans in will help.

Stevenismynickname and Kirkpatrick, thanks for the comments.

yankee00, thanks for the good question. Do not soak or cook the beans with salt. Salt tends to harden beans during the water absorption process.

I actually didn't add any salt to this recipe and didn't need to. The soy sauce give the dish enough saltiness to compensate. And I rarely cook with salt, even when boiling pasta, like I used to in the days back in Canada. I try to use enough flavourings like green onion, garlic, ginger and sesame oil to make dishes tasty enough 'cause salt's not good for us anyways!

I've made this dish using the red beans several times and always soaked and then cooked them until they were soft so if you added salt that would likely be the prob.

I never would have thought to add baking soda, danTheMan. Good idea. Thanks for that! I'll try it and let you know.

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