Red Bean Soup

By The Feiloh - Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Bean dessert soups can be quick and simple comfort food when you have a craving for them.


All you have to do is to boil your favourite bean to the desired consistency, add sugar to taste and voilà: warm, sweet and comforting reassurance that harks back to those innocent days.


I remember the famous “Second Aunt” dessert stall in Chinatown where the entire wet market was then out on the streets in the 70s and 80s. Amid the hustle and bustle of the crowd jostling around the stalls, we would sit on low stools on three sides of that stall, spooning up our favourite dessert soups (or ‘tong shui”).


We also didn’t mind that the bowls and spoons were washed by merely rinsing them in a bucket of water before being reused for the next customer. When the bucket gets sufficiently dirty, the water will be poured into the open drain nearby. Ah, the good ol’ bad days.


What held our attentions was the variety of dessert soups offered. All the desserts were based on at least one cereal or nut: green (or mung) bean with strips of kelp seaweed; barley with gingko nut and bean curd skin; or the smoothly ground sesame, almond, walnut and peanut pastes. However, my favourite will have to be red bean soup.


Now, the famous “Second Aunt” has passed on, and the offerings by the current stall bearing her name do not hold the same attraction for me. As such, I have taken to making red bean soup at home.


Making Cantonese bean soups at home is not hard: just boil the beans (with a smidgen of rice) for a couple of hours until the beans split or “blossom”. A pressure cooker will speed things up greatly. Do keep in mind that red beans, when overly boiled, becomes bitter.


Besides the addition of dried tangerine peel, some folks may also add peanut, lotus seed or lily bulb (“bak hap”). Now, you can only hope that these dried ingredients all cook and soften at the same rate but this doesn’t always happen. If you want to do it right, it requires a little more work.


Lotus seed and lily bulb are added to the red bean dessert served at the end of traditional Chinese wedding dinners and that version (“hung tau sar”) is more like a smoothie where the bean’s coarse seed coats have been removed.


So, if you want red bean soup as a quick comfort food, use the basic recipe. But if you want to impress a future Cantonese mother-in-law, try the more elaborate version that builds on the basic recipe.


Add lotus seed and lily bulb to your usual red bean soup to jazz it up.


Basic Recipe


250g of red (azuki) bean (rinsed; no need to pre-soak)

2 tsp of uncooked white rice (rinsed) or two tablespoons of leftover, cooked plain rice.

6 cups (1.5L) of water

1 small piece of dried tangerine peel about the size of your thumb (rinse, scrap off any white pith if present)

½ cup (or so) of sugar



Place the beans and the water into a pot that is at least twice the height of the water; this is because the mixture will tend to foam during cooking.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium; leave pot lid slightly ajar.

Should the mixture be in danger of boiling dry, add only boiling hot water from a kettle a little at a time.

After an hour, add the tangerine peel and continue to boil for another hour.

By now the beans should have “blossomed”. Stir to help break the beans up further. If the soup is too watery, leave the pot lid off and boil for a little longer to reduce the liquid to the desired consistency.

Add the sugar – you are done; serve warm or cold.


Extended Version of Recipe for the Red Bean Smoothie

The lotus seed and lily bulb are cooked separately and the red beans are sieved to remove the seed coats and thus obtain a smoother product.


Additional Ingredients

40 g (about two tbsp) of dried white lotus seeds (these should be hole in their centres where the bitter embryonic buds (plumules) have been removed)

10 g (about one tbsp) of dried lily bulb segments (rinse and soak in water for half an hour)



Prepare a red bean soup using the basic recipe.

In the meantime, rinse the lotus seeds and place in a separate pot. Add enough water to cover the seeds for one or two centimetres and boil on medium heat for 1.5 hours or until seeds are soft (test by removing a seed and squishing with a spoon).

Drain the lily bulb segments, add to the lotus seeds and boil for another 30 minutes.

Squish the red beans with a ladle to break up the beans or use a blender.

Pass the soup through a coarse sieve to remove the seed coats.

Drain the lotus seeds and lily bulb segments and add to the sieved red bean soup.