I never knew that red adzuki beans were so versatile. I used to think that they could only be used in the occasional savoury dish – a vegetarian lasagne perhaps. I’d buy a bag of them, put them in the cupboard, and then wonder what on earth to do with them. It’s a pity I didn’t know back then that you can put red beans into a whole range of dishes ranging from boiled savoury rice, to noodle soup, sweet rice cakes (above), bread, waffles, and ice cream. In summer the signature red bean dish here is bingsu, but in winter it’s bean porridge – patjuk.
patjuk (팥죽) is warm and sweet. The sweetness level depends on the cafe and some places offer low sugar versions of the dish. (Tins of red beans are available in the shops too, but there’s too much sugar in them for me). Despite all the sugar patjuk is a healthy dish made to warm and nourish the body in winter. (Japan and China have their own versions)
Patjuk is traditionally eaten on winter solstice (we don’t eat it because Mr. Kim doesn’t like it, and I usually forget and don’t know how to make it anyway 😕 ) It’s getting to that time of year when the ‘cold envies the flowers‘ (꽃샘추위 got-sem-chu-ui ) when we have several days of very cold weather followed by warm weather before the spring comes. But the local cafes that specialise in sweet adzuki bean desserts are still advertising their warm patjuk porridge and encouraging customers to get some juk to warm the body and soul during these final weeks of winter. This cafe also plugs the fact that the adzuki beans, rice, and chestnuts used in their shop are 100% Korean produce.
I went to this cafe called 홍설 – a cafe that specialises in adzuki bean and rice desserts. I got a take out which was put in an insulated bag to keep the food warm on the way home.
As soon as I got home and took the lid off the pot I got a warm comforting whiff of cinnamon. I liked that. But patjuk is all about the adzuki beans. The pot weighed 400g – that’s quite a lot of beans! So it’s a pretty substantial meal in itself. No wonder when rice was expensive or scarce patjuk was a nourishing and cheap alternative.
It’s a simple dish and doesn’t come with anything on the side. Regular savoury rice porridge (juk 죽) will come with three small pots of various kimchi on the side. (Not that I’m saying I want kimchi with this. That would be weird. 😕 )
The texture of this patjuk is thick and smooth – not lumpy. On the top of the beans are several slices of cooked chestnut sprinkled with cinnamon, two pieces of soft tteok rice cakes, a few pine nuts for a nutty crunch, and some slices of jujube for a fruity flavour. It’s warming and comforting. And like afternoon tea, good for filling a gap between lunch and dinner on a cold afternoon. Or it could be a meal in itself if it isn’t too sweet.
These days it’s considered a diet food and popular with the ladies. I couldn’t eat it all – there was too much for me and the flavour gets a bit monotonous after a while (in my opinion) – but it did come with two plastic spoons so maybe it’s not supposed to be a portion for one! (price 7,000 won per pot)
Another product they sell here is rice cakes filled with adzuki beans. Isn’t this wrapping the cutest ever? It’s a pity that this isn’t the year of the rabbit. 😉
I have to say I prefer red bean rice cakes to patjuk. The mix of rice cake and red beans gives a nice blend of textures and flavours. And they go perfectly with a strong cup of green tea in the afternoon.