Healthy eating is becoming more and more popular in today’s society as we discover that the processed foods we’ve been ingesting for so long can actually be harmful. One of the easiest ways to find healthy, nutrition-packed foods is to look into the past and eat like the ancients. Many ancient ingredients have recently entered the spotlight because of their recognized health benefits. The adzuki bean is one such food. Today’s recipe is a wonderful vegetarian meal of Rice and Barley with Gingered Adzuki. Used as a main dish or simply as a complement to the main course, this recipe is packed with nutrition and flavor.
The adzuki bean comes from a vine that grows annually throughout East Asia. For thousands of years it has been an important staple in Japanese and Chinese cuisines. It is difficult to know when and where adzuki was first cultivated because wild forms and cultivated forms were used at the same time. Some of the earliest archaeological evidence of the cultivated adzuki bean was found at the Awazu-kotei ruin in Japan and dates back to 4000 BCE. However, evidence from Neolithic settlements in both Korea and Japan show signs of human manipulation of the adzuki, perhaps before full cultivation took hold.
Regardless of when cultivation began, the little red bean was and continues to be an integral part of several East Asian diets. The most common way of eating the adzuki bean is in red bean paste. The beans are boiled with sugar and mashed into a sweet paste that is often used in confections. Of course, adding sugar does diminish the nutritional value of the bean. On its own, the adzuki bean has a sweet and nutty flavor and is low in calories while still being an excellent source of protein, unlike most other beans that have a high calorie price tag to go along with their healthy protein.
There are many ways to enjoy this ancient little power food, but they are perhaps best when at their simplest: soaked and boiled. They can easily be added to other delicious and healthy ingredients in order to create unique dishes full of flavor and nutritional value.
Rice and Barley with Gingered Adzuki
- ⅓ cup of short-grain brown rice, rinsed
- ⅓ cup hulled barley, rinsed
- ¾ teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoons of dark sesame oil
- 1 15-oz. can of adzuki beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 tablespoons of mirin (sweet rice wine)
- 1 tablespoon of umeboshi vinegar
- ¼ cup of thinly sliced green onions (white and light green parts)
- Combine rice, barley and 3 cups water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, and add 1/4 tsp. salt. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, about 30 minutes, or until water reaches level of grains. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 5 minutes more, or until grains are dry. (Do not disturb steam holes that have formed.) Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat ginger and sesame oil in medium skillet over medium heat until ginger begins to sizzle, about 3 minutes. Add beans, mirin, vinegar and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, about 3 minutes, or until liquid evaporates.
- Stir beans into cooked rice and barley. Taste, and add more salt if desired. Sprinkle with chopped green onions.
 Crawford GW. 2011. Advances in Understanding Early Agriculture in Japan. Current Anthropology 52(S4):S331-S345.
 Lee G-A. 2013. Archaeological perspectives on the origins of azuki (Vigna angularis). The Holocene 23(3):453-459.