It’s always special to share the kitchen with someone who is passionate about food. And I had the occasion like that a while ago with Anh Vu from Bep Thuc Duong, a whole food plant-based kitchen in Vietnam
Although I’m not vegetarian, I'm always fascinated by the way Anh Vu uses new ingredients to improve recipes to make them healthier and more exciting.
Anh Vu showed me how to make a traditional Japanese sweet that has two different names. When is served in spring, it’s called botanmochi but the same sweet is called ohagi in fall.
Botanmochi is named after peony (botan), a spring flower while hagi is a Japanese bush clover and is listed as the first autumn plant.
Hagi flowers. (Flickr: Takashi. M)
In Japan, the dessert is traditionally prepared for spring and autumn equinox days to offer to ancestors.
It is a kind of inside-out mochi. Normally, mochi is made of glutinous rice dough for the skin and filled with bean paste inside. Botanmochi/ohagi, on the other hand, has a chunky sweet azuki bean paste skin that covers a sticky rice ball.
However, Anh Vu in his recipe uses short grain brown rice instead of glutinous white rice. Brown rice has greater health benefits than white jasmine rice because it is whole grain. Only the outer layer of the rice kernel, the hull, is removed to produce brown rice. The rice bran is still intact and provides fiber, protein, and selenium. The texture of short grain brown rice is starchy and not as sticky as white rice, but it has mild and nutty flavor. Hence, it adds a really nice flavour to the dish.
Anh Vu also uses brown coconut sugar, which matches really well with brown rice and allows him to reduce the sweetness but doesn’t have to compromise taste. Furthermore, brown coconut sugar is similar to normal brown sugar in taste but with a rich complexity in flavour and less fructose than regular sugar.
Cooking with Anh Vu was really an open mind experience. Not only I know more about this Japanese sweet but also become more aware of the alternative ingredients that could improve the health aspect in our food.
Finally, the little chunk on bean paste does remind you of little purple bush flowers and the pattern in peony buds. And as it is spring in the southern hemisphere and autumn up north, it’s perfect time to make botanmochi or ohagi to enjoy the lovely season around you.
Sweet brown rice and red bean balls
Recipe: Anh Vu - Photo & text: Lili Tu
- 210g short grain brown rice
- 90g brown rice
- 1 cup adzuki red beans
- 4 cups water
- ¾ cup coconut sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Soak the rice in water for at least 30 minutes.
- Wash the adzuki beans with water several times. Add adzuki beans in a pot and cover with water. Bring it to the boil, simmer for about 2 minutes then drain.
- Add the adzuki beans back into the pot with 4 cups of fresh water and bring it back to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer, partially covered for 40 minutes or until the beans soften and most of the water should be gone. Add more hot water if you need to simmer the beans more.
- Add sugar and the salt to the beans and stir for few more minutes.
- Take the beans off the heat. Mash the beans using a back of a spoon until it becomes a thick paste but still lumpy. Place the mash in a container, cover and set aside.
- In a pot, add rice and enough water to cover 5cm above the rice. Leave uncovered under medium heat. Once it starts to bubble turn heat to low, cover and simmer until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is soft and cooked through. Once cooked gently fluff. Remove from the heat. Mash the rice with a pestle, until the rice is thick and sticky.
- Wet hands lightly with water; take about 2 tablespoons of the rice and make a small pillow-shaped ball. Wrap the rice with about 2 tablespoons of bean paste until the rice is entirely enclosed in the red bean. Continue with the rest of the rice and red bean paste.