Shiruko /Zenzai

A bowl of shiruko with a block of toasted mochi

Shiruko (汁粉), or oshiruko (お汁粉) with the honorific “o” (お), is a traditional Japanese dessert. It is a sweet porridge of azuki beans boiled and crushed, served in a bowl with mochi. There are different styles of shiruko, such as shiruko with chestnuts, or with glutinous rice flour dumplings instead of mochi.

Ok, this post is maybe a little redundant. Shiruko is simply the Japanese version of hong dou tang. The only differences are no citrus peel, and about twice as much sugar, making it definately more in the realm of dessert or snack than main dish. Sometimes exploring subtle differences can be as much fun as big ones.

I gather that, as often as not, this dish is made by simply thinning out canned sweet red bean paste with water. Japan seems to have taken packaged convenience foods to a whole new level, so I guess that’s not so surprising. (I read this article a couple months ago, about Japan’s plastic use.)

According to the various recipe blogs I took inspiration from, in the east of Japan this dish is called Zenzai if it is chunky with whole beans left in it, and Oshiruko if it is smooth. In the western parts of the country it’s called Zenzai either way.

Mochi is a traditional Japanese rice cake, made from glutinous rice flour. (Despite it’s name, glutinous rice is gluten free. Glutinous refers to the stretchy nature of doughs made with it, not actual gluten content.) Mochi is most famous around the world as an ice cream dish, where the ice cream is wrapped in the rice cake, but that’s just one of many different preparations. Apparently a block the size of a match box is equivalent to a whole bowl of rice, so it was popular with samurai as travel rations. There is a history of ritual uses, especially around Japanese New Year celebrations, and is considered an omen of good fortune, according to Wikipedia.

The rice dumplings I made with the hong dou tang last week have the same ingredients as mochi, but mochi is pounded or stirred as it cooks to develope the stringy, stretchy qualities of the starch. For this recipe I bough shelf stable kirimochi*, which I just pop into the toaster oven until it puffs up and browns. I tried using the bake setting, but get better results toasting it. Traditionally it would be grilled on the hibachi.

Shiruko/ Zenzai

Serves 4-6
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook 1-2 hours

8 oz. azuki Beans
5 cups Water
⅛ teaspoon Salt
8 oz. Sugar


940 g sweet red bean paste (in place of beans and sugar)

Rinse adzuki beans, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, and drain.
Add 5 cups of water, return to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook, covered, for 1-2 hours, until very soft.
Drain beans, reserving water. Add sugar and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, until beans are shiny. Return water to pot, and bring to a boil.

For Shiruko, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Pour into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer back into the pot, pushing it through with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Discard any solids left in the strainer. If necessary, add water to reach desired consistency, and reheat.

Cook mochi in a toaster oven until brown and starting to puff up. Place in bowl and ladle beans over top.

If using red bean paste, add water and heat until dissolved and hot. Blend if desired, and serve with toasted mochi.

*I receive no compensation for mentioning this product.

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