This weekend, I attended my very first traditional Chinese wedding, as two friends who I study Korean with ended up falling in all sorts of love and decided to spend the rest of their lives together. The wedding was completely amazing. I loved being able to meet their families, learn all about their specific wedding customs and, of course, eat a ridiculous amount of Cantonese food. (In Chinese tradition, weddings can serve anywhere from 10 - 12 courses. Ours stopped right at 11!)
One of the very last dishes we ate was Hóng Dòu Tāng, a sweet red bean soup served in a thin broth with simmered lotus seeds. I have seen this dish around, especially at the Taiwanese tea house I'm often frequenting, and couldn't wait to try it myself. The soup is a wonderful combination of sweet and savory, and the lotus seed has a nice nutty flavor and texture similar to peanuts.
You should be able to find all of these ingredients at most Asian markets. This recipe can be made without lotus seeds, of course, but lotus seeds are full of good nutrition and are constantly used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat anything from insomnia to gastrointestinal problems - which is why it's the perfect bowl to end the night with!
Sweet Red Bean Soup (Hóng Dòu Tāng)
1 cup red beans (You can probably find these canned, but fresh is best if possible.)
15 dried lotus seeds
1 piece dried tangerine peel
4 - 5 tablespoons brown sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons fine glutinous rice flour in equal parts of water for thickening to your desired consistency
Some coconut milk for drizzling over soup
1. Wash red beans in several rinses of water until water runs clear of dirt and grit. Put into a pot, fill with water to a height equivalent to the length of your index finger - roughly 2 inches - above the beans. Bring to a boil, and let par-boil for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, cover with lid, and let it sit for half an hour to let the hot water soften the tough bean husks.
2. Meanwhile, soak dried tangerine peel in water for 15 minutes or until soft. Using the blunt end of a small knife, scrape off the pith on the inside of the peel. Wash clean, and then wash the lotus seeds as well.
3. Bring the pot of red beans back to a boil, add the washed tangerine peel, lotus seeds, and half of the brown sugar. Reduce to medium heat, let simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the beans are soft. Skim foam off the surface as it forms. Add water if the liquid reduces too much. When beans are soft and cracked open, do a taste test and add sugar to your desired sweetness.
4. To thicken the soup slightly, stir the glutinous rice flour solution into the soup, little by little, letting the heat cook through before adding more. Stop when desired consistency is reached. Dish out into serving bowls, drizzled with some coconut milk, if desired.