Red bean soup (adzuki bean soup, aka hongdoutang — 紅豆湯) is a staple treat served to new mothers after childbirth as part of the Chinese postpartum confinement (坐月子 zuo yuezi) diet. And it is even more delicious when combined with sticky purple rice.
Red bean soup has many nutritious properties that help nourish the new mother. High in iron, Chinese believe that red beans (like other red coloured foods) helps rejuvenate and replenish blood supply, important after blood loss during childbirth. In addition, legumes such as red beans have lactogenic properties so can assist a new mother in establishing good breast milk supply. And because they are high in dietary fibre, they help keep to keep Mum regular. (To state the obvious, when you are still sore in your womanly bits from giving birth, it’s a good idea to avoid constipation. And unfortunately, hemorrhoids are relatively common during and after birth, which is another good reason to eat lots of beans.)
Red bean soup by itself is delicious, but the addition of sticky purple rice gives it a luxurious deep claret richness and slightly nutty taste. Purple rice is also common in the zuo yuezi diet, especially in multi-grain blends, but it is more often eaten as a dessert.
Eating sugary desserts after childbirth might seem fairly indulgent at first. But a certain amount of good quality sugar — preferably rock sugar or Taiwanese black sugar (brown sugar) — is useful in the first few weeks after delivery to help boost energy. But you can have too much of a good thing, especially if you want to lose weight. I have a fairly sweet tooth, so reduce the sugar content in this recipe if you are able to.
I cooked my red bean soup in our trusty Ta-tung electric cooker — a fixture in most Taiwanese kitchens. This is a fast and convenient way to make this soup: just set and forget. But you can also cook it in a saucepan on the stove top.
1 cup red beans (adzuki beans)
pinch of bicarbonate of soda (optional)
1/2 cup purple sticky rice
1 cup (or to taste) rock sugar
Electronic/rice cooker method
- Soak the red beans overnight in water with a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. (The soda will help to soften the beans and remove any pesticide residue, but it is not essential.)
- Soak the purple sticky rice in water for around half an hour.
- Drain the water from the red beans and and sticky rice. Place in a pan with six cups (1.5 liters) of water. Place two electric cooker measuring cups of water in the outer rim of the cooker and press on.
- When cooked, allow to cool slightly and then test the red beans to ensure that they are cooked to the desired consistency. While still warm add sugar, stir to combine and adjust to taste.
- Serve warm.
- Follow the first two steps above.
- Combine the red beans and sticky rice with six cups of water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and then simmer for around thirty minutes or until cooked to the desired consistency.
- Remove from the heat, and while still warm add the sugar and stir to dissolve.