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 offers 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.
Sekihan (Japanese Azuki Beans & Rice)
- ½ rice cooker cup azuki beans
- 3 rice cooker cups sweet rice/glutinous rice (mochigome)
- ½ rice cooker cup uncooked Japanese short-grain rice
- 2 ½ cups water
- ½ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- toasted black sesame seeds (or use gomashio, which is the combination of black sesame seeds and salt)
To Measure Ingredients
- We use a 180-ml rice cooker cup to measure the ingredients.
To Prepare Azuki Beans 6-8 Hours Ahead of Time or Overnight
- Rinse azuki beans and soak for 6-8 hours (or overnight).
To Cook Azuki Beans
- Put azuki beans in a pot. Put water just enough to cover the beans and bring it to a boil on medium-high heat. Once boiling, immediately turn off the heat and drain over a sieve. Put azuki beans back in the pot and add 2 ½ cups (600 ml) water. Bring it to a boil on medium-high heat. Once it boils, turn down the heat to low/simmer and cover the lid. Keep simmering for 15 minutes. Check the doneness of the beans by mashing a bean easily with your two fingers.
- When it’s done, separate the beans and cooking water into bowls. Use plastic wrap to cover the beans so it doesn’t dry out or crack. Let them cool down completely.
To Cook Rice in Rice Cooker
- Combine both glutinous rice and Japanese short-grain rice into a bowl and rinse them thoroughly. If you don't know how to rinse the rice properly, check out the step-by-step instructions in this recipe.
- Add rice into the rice cooker bowl. Pour the reserved azuki-cooking water in the rice cooker bowl until 3 cups line for Sweet Rice (if your rice cooker does not have "Sweet Rice" option, pour water just a little bit below 3 cups line for White Rice). If you don’t have enough reserved water, add water to make it to 3 cups. Then add salt and mix. Lastly, add the beans on top and evenly distribute but try not to mix with rice. Rice cooks evenly when it's not mixed with other ingredients. Start cooking.
- When it’s done cooking, keep the lid closed for an additional 15 minutes. Stir the rice gently and serve. Sprinkle black sesame seeds and salt (or gomashio) and enjoy!
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for a month.