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Traditional Shiro-An (Sweet White Bean Paste)
Sweet white bean paste has a lighter, more refined flavor than sweet red bean paste. For this reason, you can easily flavor white bean paste with any kind of extracts or flavorings. Making shiro-an does take some time and labor, so it is best done with friends. Fortunately, the paste can
be easily frozen and saved for future mochi fillings. This recipe holds a special memory for me — Haruko Nagaishi, a third-generation Japanese-American woman living in the Bay Area, taught me how to make this delicious paste. Haruko-san’s recipe is adapted from the San Jose Wesley Methodist Church cookbook. You’ll need a food processor or blender; and a dish towel, muslin cloth, or white cotton cloth with a tight weave. You will need to soak the beans overnight, so plan ahead.

Note: By replacing the large lima beans with baby lima beans, you can prepare the recipe more quickly, since you won’t have to remove the skin from the small beans. Either way, you end up with a very smooth paste.

Yield: About 2½ cups (for 30 balls)

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  • Step 1

    The day before you plan to make the paste, place the beans in a large heatproof bowl and pour in enough of the boiling water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Let the beans soak overnight.

  • Step 2

    The next day, drain the beans and remove all the skins and sprouts. This must be done with your hands, one bean at a time. This is best done with a friend, as it can take up to an hour on your own. Skip the skinning if you are using baby lima beans.

  • Step 3

    Transfer the beans to a large pot, and add enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then drain. Repeat this two more times. (This removes the scum, the bean's gas-inducing properties, and the strong bean flavor.)

  • Step 4

    Add enough water to cover the beans by 1 inch, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are soft, fork-tender, and easy to smash between your fingers, 30 to 60 minutes. This is a large range in cooking time, but recently harvested dried beans will cook faster than older dried beans. If the water level goes down, replenish so that it remains 1 inch above the beans.

  • How to make a filling. Sweet White Bean Paste - Step 5
    Step 5

    Transfer the beans and water to a food processor or blender, and purée until very smooth. Lay a dish towel over a fine-mesh strainer, then pour the purée into the towel. Grab and twist the towel to wring out excess liquid from the purée. Wring vigorously to remove all the water. Open the towel and make an indentation in the paste with your finger. If the indentation stays, then you’re done wringing. The paste should be the texture of mashed potatoes.

  • Step 6

    Transfer the beans to a large pot, stir in the sugar and salt, and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until a solid mixture is formed, 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Step 7

    Cool and form into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Store in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.
    Variation: Add 1 teaspoon matcha to every cup of prepared sweet white bean paste for a matcha-flavored white bean paste.

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