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Many countries, east and west, have a traditional recipe for red beans and rice, with slight variations in each. In Japan, the dish attempts to imbue the rice with the color of the beans. Known as sekihan, literally meaning "red rice," this dish is prepared in a pot with white rice and red beans, supplemented with just a few seasonings to keep it from tasting bland.
Native Japanese legumes are commonly used to make sekihan, which also goes by the name osekihan. The primary constituent is called the red azuki bean, which is used in many Japanese recipes, particularly as red bean paste called an. Other western varieties like kidney and red Mexican beans are suitable replacements.
The beans are just one major component of sekihan. Many chefs use either a glutinous or non-glutinous variety of white rice. Some use a combination, such as one recipe that calls for four parts glutinous to one part non-glutinous rice. About six parts rice is used for about one part beans, which should imbue the rice with a dark pink or light red hue.
To prepare sekihan, the rice is first cleaned in several series of water soakings. Once the water runs clear, the rice is often left soaking for several hours. The beans are cleaned and boiled in water, and then the rice is added, along with some salt. Once the boil returns, the heat is lowered, and the pot is covered until the rice and beans are both tender.
A popular Japanese seasoning for finishing off sekihan is called gomashio. This is salt mixed with some toasted sesame seeds, which are sprinkled liberally over the finished product. These are the only seasonings needed. Some chefs, however, add extra azuki paste or even red food coloring to the pot while the dish is cooking to intensify the coloring.
Aside from the savory sekihan, a sweet version also is popular. This recipe adds sugar to the rice and beans when they start cooking in the pot. Salt is left out entirely to create a distinctive dessert-like dish. Instead of the gomashio though, chefs might sprinkle more sugar on top. These sweet or savory dishes are prepared throughout the year and can be found on restaurant menus, in bento boxes and from home kitchens. It is a frequent offering at several types of celebrations, too, from weddings to street fairs.