This sweet red bean soup is a hearty traditional Chinese dessert. It’s slightly sweet, with the mild fragrance of the beans and chewy texture of the sticky rice cakes. It’s very easy to prepare and healthy. Plus, it’s vegan and gluten-free.
Sweet red bean soup is one of those dishes that brings me nostalgia and memories of my childhood. It’s a dish my mom cooks every summer. According to Chinese medicine, red bean broth has the benefit of cooling the body during the hot summer and keeping a person energized.
Red Bean Soup – Summer vs Winter Versions
My mom’s red bean soup is slightly different from what’s shown in the pictures here. My mom usually uses more water to make a paler and thinner soup. Once done, she filters out the beans and lightly sweetens the soup with rock sugar. Then she transfers the soup to the fridge until chilled. During the hot summer, she would pour me a glass of the cold, sweet red bean soup the moment I got home from school. With a few gulps of sweet bean soup in my belly, I would immediately feel like the hot weather had gone away.
Lately I’ve been thinking of red bean soup again. Maybe because I’ve eaten too much Western food during the holiday season. Maybe because Chinese New Year is around the corner. Now I crave comfort food. Dishes such as Seafood Congee, Tofu with Century Eggs, Braised Pork Feet, and Egg Fried Rice. These simple and plain-looking foods represent the Northern Chinese food I ate growing up.
Even though I love my mom’s summer red bean soup, I decided to do it slightly differently, so it suits the cold weather. I left the red beans in the soup, added more sugar, added sticky rice cakes, and served the soup hot. It makes a hearty snack and a dessert that I eat in the afternoon and after dinner.
The red bean soup is so easy to make. All you need to do is soak the beans a day ahead, simmer them in the water, and add some sugar to sweeten it. If you’re new to Asian desserts, here is the information on the ingredients.
1. How to prep and cook with red beans
Also called Azuki beans in Japanese, red beans (红豆) are a common ingredient in Asian desserts. For example, you can make them into a sweet paste and use the paste as a filling in sticky rice cakes, Zongzi (sticky rice dumplings), and mooncakes.
To cook with red beans on the stovetop, you should pre-soak the beans overnight so they take less time to cook and they get cooked evenly. However, you can use a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot to skip the soaking process and shorten the cooking time. To took with a pressure cooker, simply combine the beans and water, cook at high pressure for 20 minutes, then allow the pressure to release naturally.
2. Rock sugar
Rock sugar (冰糖, bing tang) or rock candy is crystallized cane sugar. It has a transparent color and looks like a mineral crystal. It tastes milder and slightly fruitier than granular sugar. It is commonly used in Chinese drinks, desserts, and savory dishes as a sweetener. You might need to visit an Asian market to get it, or you can find it on Amazon.
That being said, you can replace it with granulated sugar if you don’t have rock sugar on hand.
3. Optional items to add to the soup
A lot of southern Chinese desserts use sago (small tapioca pearls) in red bean soup. Tapioca pearls are almost tasteless but add a smooth, chewy texture to the soup. If you want to use them, simply cook 1 to 2 tablespoons of sago according to the instructions on the package, and fold them to the soup at the end.
Personally, my favorite add-on for this soup is sticky rice cakes. Once heated through, they have a crunchy, chewy texture and a mild rice fragrance, which tastes so good with the sweet soup. It also gives the soup a more interesting appearance. You can find sticky rice cakes in the refrigerated or freezer section of an Asian market.
More Asian dessert recipes
- Mango Sticky Rice
- 4-Ingredient No-Churn Black Sesame Ice Cream
- Almond Tofu (Almond Pudding, 杏仁豆腐)
- Ginger Creme Brulee
- Chinese Banana Fritters
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Red Bean Soup (红豆汤)
- 1 cup dried red beans azuki beans
- 2 to 4 tablespoons rock sugar (or granulated sugar)
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups sliced sticky rice cakes (Optional)
- Rinse the beans with tap water and drain. Add the red beans into a big bowl along with 3 cups of water. Soak the beans overnight. (*Footnote 1)
- Drain the beans and transfer them to a medium-sized pot. Add 8 cups of tap water. Heat over medium heat and stir occasionally to prevent the beans from sticking to the pan. When the water start to boil, turn to low heat. Simmer, covered, until the beans turn tender and start to fall apart, about 1 hour. Remove from heat.
- (Optional) If you like a creamy soup, use an immersion blender to blend the beans until it reaches your desired consistency. Normally, the soup is quite coarse and still contains bits of red beans. Or you can blend the soup until smooth if you prefer.
- Add the salt. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir to mix well. Taste the soup until it reaches the desired sweetness. I usually use 2 tablespoons for a mild sweet taste for a regular dessert or afternoon snack. But I would ramp up the sugar to 4 tablespoons if I’m planning serve the dish at a dinner party.
- (Optional) Add the rice cakes if using, turn the stove back to medium-low heat. Heat the rice cakes until just tender, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the type and shape of the rice cakes you use.
- At this stage, you can add a small amount of water to adjust the texture of the soup, if needed.
- Once done, serve the soup hot or cold as a dessert. You can store the leftover soup in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
- Alternatively, you can skip the soaking and use a pressure cooker (or Instant Pot) to cook the red beans. To took with pressure cooker, simply combine the beans and water, cook at high pressure for 20 minutes, then allow the pressure to release naturally.