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Sekihan (Japanese Azuki Bean Rice) is steamed rice cooked with azuki red beans, topped with black sesame seeds. It’s always served on happy occasions in Japan.
What are some of the celebratory dishes in your culture? In Japan, we have quite a number of foods that we eat on special occasions. One of them is Sekihan (赤飯) or Japanese Azuki Bean Rice. To usher in the upcoming Japanese New Year, let’s learn how to make this beautiful bean and rice dish today.
What is Sekihan?
Sekihan (赤飯) translates to “red rice” in Japanese as the glutinous rice is tinted with an attractive shade of red from cooking with Azuki beans. The red color of the rice symbolizes happiness and prosperity. It’s a traditional dish served on many happy and celebratory occasions, such as New Year, the birth of baby, birthdays, festivals, and weddings.
Traditionally Sekihan is made of 100% glutinous rice (you might also call it sweet rice or mochigome). It is very filling and can be heavy on the stomach, so a lot of people started mixing in regular Japanese short-grain rice.
There are also regional varieties of the Sekihan. Some versions use a pinch of sugar instead of salt to give a sweet flavor, and some use other mixture of beans instead of Azuki beans.
The unique thing about Sekihan is that we sometimes serve it at room temperature. For regular steam rice, we don’t do that unless it’s served as rice balls (Onigiri).
Azuki Red Beans in Japanese Cuisine
In Japanese cooking, Azuki beans (or Adzuki beans) are almost exclusively used in making Japanese sweets or pastries. The beans are smashed and sweetened and used as fillings in Daifuku Mochi, Manju, Dorayaki, Red Bean Ice Cream, Anpan, and so on.
For this instance, however, Azuki beans make a rare appearance in a non-sweet dish that is rather unique to Japanese cuisine. It replicates the ancient red rice in Japan and brings many great meanings for the culture.
Quick Tips on Making Sekihan
Use Japanese glutinous rice
It’s important to use the Japanese short-grain sweet rice/glutinous rice for this recipe. It is not the same as Thai or Chinese long-grain glutinous rice. Look for it in Japanese grocery stores. On the rice packages, the labels should indicate mochi gome or もち米. You can read more about it on our pantry page.
Soak Azuki Beans
Soaking the dried red beans for at least half a day or overnight will help to reduce the cooking time drastically. The water also absorbs some of the “complex sugars’ in the beans that cause gas. And you’ll get the best texture from beans, with fewer slit-ups.
Cook the rice using a rice cooker
Most Japanese households prepare Sekihan using a rice cooker as it is convenient, fast, and offer a consistent result. You can cook it using a pot just like the old-time, but I’ve never done it. If you don’t own a rice cooker but wish to make the recipe, feel free to look it up online.
Once the rice is cooked, sprinkle Sekihan with Gomashio (ごま塩), a mixture of toasted black sesame and salt. The rice has such a toothsome texture and wonderful fragrance from the red beans that it is so delicious on its own.
Let’s Celebrate with Sekihan
We have a saying ‘Let’s have sekihan‘ which means ‘Let’s celebrate’! I hope you get a chance to make this tasty auspicious dish on your next special day.
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Sekihan literary means “red rice” in Japanese because the rice is red from cooking with Azuki beans. It’s a traditional dish served during the New Year, births of baby, birthdays, festivals, weddings, or any kind of celebration.
- ½ rice cooker cup Azuki beans (90 ml; see Step 1)
- 3 rice cooker cups sweet rice/glutinous rice (Mochigome) (540 ml)
- ½ rice cooker cup uncooked Japanese short-grain rice (90 ml)
- 2 ½ cups water
- ½ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; Use half for table salt)
- toasted black sesame seeds (or Gomashio, optional)
Gather all the ingredients.
Wash azuki beans and soak for half a day (or overnight).
Combine both glutinous rice and Japanese short-grain rice into a bowl and wash them thoroughly (See Step 1-4 on). Drain the rice for 30 minutes.
Put azuki beans in a small pot (don't use a large pot). Put water to
cover the beans (you don’t want to put water too much here) and bring it to a boil on high heat.
Once it boils, turn off the heat and transfer the beans into a sieve to drain the water.
Put azuki beans back in the pot and add 2½ cup water. Bring it to a boil on high heat. Once it boils, turn down the heat to low and cover the lid. Keep it simmering for 15 minutes (it depends on Azuki beans). Beans are done when you can smash a bean with your fingers.
When it’s done, reserve the cooking red water and beans separately in a bowl. Use plastic wrap to cover the beans so it doesn’t dry out and crack. Let them cool down completely.
Add rice into the rice cooker bowl. Pour the reserved water in the rice cooker bowl until 3 cups line for Sweet Rice (or a little bit below 3 cups line for White Rice if you don’t have Sweet Rice option). If you don’t have enough reserved water, add water to make it to 3 cups. Then add beans and salt. Mix and start cooking.
When it’s done cooking, keep the lid closed for an additional 15 minutes. Stir the rice gently and serve. Sprinkle gomashio or toasted black sesame if you like.
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.