Azuki Bunny Buns

Soft, fluffy, sweet, and classically Asian. There’s no other way to describe red bean buns. Where Americans have chocolate chip cookies, the Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans have their red bean buns. Whether it’s someone’s birthday or time for an afternoon snack, in Asian food culture red bean buns are always a welcome treat.

Maybe it’s the American in me, but I don’t find red bean buns nearly as appealing as chocolate chip cookies. After all, they’re made with–of all things–beans! Everything changed this past week when I did some tweaking on my recipe for savory steamed buns. Inspired by spring, I sought out to make an Easter bunny-themed variation, with the perfect mild sweetness and tender texture. The results are some seriously yummy buns that can easily steal the spotlight from those chocolate chip cookies.

Azuki buns are so popular that you’ll often find them ready-made in the freezer or fridge section in Asian markets. The tell-tale sign of a mediocre (or bad) azuki bun is that it’s chokingly dry and dense. And a good one? Tender and slightly chewy with just the right amount of filling. 
I based this recipe on the dough used for my Steamed BBQ Pork Buns and Chinese Fold-Over Buns, with a few changes. Instead of using Hong Kong flour, which is harder to find, I use regular all-purpose flour here. I also swap out the powdered sugar for superfine sugar, which creates a chewier, slightly heavier dough that steams up with a perfectly thin skin and smooth surface.

Decorated with a pair of bunny ears and a nubby nose made from soft candies, the humble buns are instantly transformed into wagashi-like Easter treats. You can also just scatter some sesame seeds in the center of each rounded bun before steaming. The buns will look elegant and easy, ideal for no-nonsense adults who aren’t in to adorably chubby bunnies. Enjoy these with Japanese green teas like a pale jade gyokuo, a toasty genmaicha, or a delicate sencha like Palais des Thés Tawaramine Shincha. Any tea that’s light, grassy, and fresh on the palette is ideal with the classic Asian flavor and look of these buns. Some may say that these Azuki Bunny Buns are too cute to eat, but as you can see I clearly don’t agree!Azuki Bunny Buns

Makes 10 buns.


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup superfine sugar

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

1 tsp baking powder

1 Tbsp non-fat dry milk powder

1/8 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil

6 Tbsp lukewarm water + 1-2 tsp water more (if needed)

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp sweetened smooth red bean paste (koshian)

black sesame seeds, for bunny eyes

soft, pink chewy candies, for bunny ears and noses (I used Hi-Chews)

non-stick spray or oil, for coating proofing bowl


stand mixer with dough hook attachment

large bowl

plastic wrap

work surface

chef’s knife

Tbsp measure

large bamboo steamer

wok with slightly larger diameter than steamer OR a stockpot with exactly the same diameter as the steamer

parchment paper, cut into 2 1/2″ squares

small cupcake liners (optional)

Japanese bento grass (optional)


1.)  Place all dry dough ingredients into the bowl of a large stand mixer. Start the mixer on low, then gradually add the water and oil. About 3 minutes in, the shaggy dough should come together to form a ball. If it does not, add 1-2 tsp of water until the dough comes together. Let the dough continue to mix on low for 10 minutes, until you get a soft and supple ball of dough.

2.)  Lightly spray a large bowl with non-stick spray, coating the top surface of the dough with some of the same oil. Place the dough ball in the large bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap and place it in a draft free place to rise until almost doubled in volume.

3.)  After the first rise, take the dough out onto a work surface. Give the dough a few light kneadings, then portion it out into 10 equal pieces using a chef’s knife. Shape each dough piece into a ball, then flatten each ball into a disk about 3 1/2″ in diameter and fill it with 1 Tbsp of red bean paste. Gather the edges of the flattened dough disk, pinching them together to seal. Flip the filled dough ball over, then roll it into a slightly oval circle. Place this shaped bun on a small square of parchment paper.

4.)  Attach the eyes of the bunnies with the slightly wetted tip of a toothpick. Place the bun into the bamboo steamer. Shape a total of 10 buns, placing them at least 1″ apart in the steamer. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise for about 15 minutes, until just slightly puffy. Meanwhile, boil some water in a wok or stockpot so that the water is at least 2″ deep in the pot. 5.)  Steam the buns for 12 minutes over water at a full boil. After the buns have finished steaming, let them cool before decorating them with soft, pink candies (I used Strawberry Hi-Chews, but you could use any soft pink candy). Cut a candy crosswise, in 1/4″ thick pieces. Shape the pieces (see below) into elongated bunny ears. Use the center pink part of the candies to make tiny balls to make the bunny noses. Attach the candies to the surface of the cooled, steamed buns using light dabs of water. Decorate these buns just before serving as the attached candies get soft and sticky after being adhered to the buns. Place the buns on cupcake liners decorated with bento grass for a festive Easter finish.

Matcha Sushi Balls

Sushi rice balls or temari are easily becoming my new favorite tea meal. These colorful rice bites are a twist on ordinary cut sushi rolls, simpler to make (no sushi mat required!) and with an added touch of artistic flair. I love that you can make them using leftover tidbits of this and that, whatever you have on hand in the fridge. Like dim sum or a tea sandwich, they are delightful little delicacies, ideally served with a soothing cup of Japanese tea.

Sushi balls can be made with host of pre-prepped ingredients like lunch meats, cocktail shrimp, or even thinly sliced sushi grade fish. Here, I’ve used smoked salmon, which is easy to find and enhances the rich umami taste of the matcha flavored rice. Eaten together this way, you can taste the best of flavors from land and sea.

For vegetarian variations, you’ll want to showcase the beauty of your produce as much as possible. A cluster of carefully sliced green onions, thin pieces of ripe avocado, or vibrant orange carrot cut-outs add flavor and visual flair to your sushi game. Even Western ingredients like cheese, capers, and sliced olives make pretty embellishments.Above all, remember that creativity is key when making temari sushi. Try selecting colorful ingredients that are easily molded around the rice ball, not too bulky or too large. If you like your sushi more on the traditional side, you can nix the matcha power and make the rice balls plain, seasoned simply with sweetened rice vinegar. These crafty homemade sushi are ideal for parties, bento lunches, or even a romantic dinner. Serve them with emerald green gyokuro, grassy sencha, or caffeine-free soba cha and your artful Japanese tea meal is complete.
Matcha Sushi Balls

Makes 20 rice balls. 


{Seasoned Rice}

2 cups sushi rice

3 cups water

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp matcha


a few slices of smoked salmon




masago or caviar

cocktail shrimp, halved down the spine

black sesame seeds


rice cooker or medium pot with cover

small pot

small sifter

wooden spoon

plastic wrap, a piece the size of a sheet of paper

small bowl of cold water

large plate or baking sheet

2 Tbsp cookie dough scoop

sharp paring knife, kitchen scissors, or mini vegetable cutters


1.)  Place the rice in the pot, then wash it several times until the water runs clear. Drain off the water from the rice, then add the 3 cups of water. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, then let the rice cook for 20 minutes on a low simmer until all the water is absorbed.

2.)  While the rice is cooking, prepare the seasoned vinegar. Warm the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

3.)  When the rice has absorbed all the water, let it sit for 5 minutes, then add the sweet vinegar seasoning. Sift the matcha over the hot rice, then gently incorporate it with the wooden spoon.

4.)  To make the rice balls, dip the ice cream scoop into a bowl of cold water, then scoop out the seasoned rice onto a large plate or baking sheet. For the sushi balls to all be the same size, pack the rice into the scoop and level it off.

5.)  Place the toppings on each rice ball. Use a sharp paring knife, kitchen scissors, or mini vegetable cutters to cut the toppings into pretty shapes. The toppings you add at this point will end up lying flush against the surface of the rice ball. Shape the rice balls by placing one in the center of a piece of plastic wrap lightly damped with water. Use the plastic wrap to mold the topping against the rice ball, using your hand to create a smooth surface.6.)  Remove the rice ball from the plastic wrap and place on a serving platter. At this point, you can finish the temari with delicate finishes like capers, masago, furikake, or sesame seeds. Repeat steps 4-6 to create 20 sushi balls…enjoy!

Green Tea Chicken Soup

I spent most of last week sick with a head cold, slurping down copious amounts of hot tea. As I was busy with Halloween posts and not very interested in eating regular food, Green Tea Chicken Soup became my life saver. Soup can taste like a 5-star meal when you’re sick, and luckily, with this recipe, my 5-star meal took just minutes to make!

As wonderful as chicken noodle soup is, the Asian gal in me insists on putting my untraditional twist on this favorite. It’s amazing how some slight changes to the ingredient list can instantly transform a homey, farmstead recipe into a unique and inspired one. Miso, ginger, and green tea are my secret ingredients here–they add just a touch of Asian flair without overwhelming the soup.

I found these organic green tea soba noodles at World Market the other day. These are great in any soup, but especially here, where their green tea flavor is also infused in the broth itself. These noodles have buckwheat in them, which helps to create a tender texture similar to that of egg noodles.

I use the green tea in a way similar to how a bouquet garni is used. A disposable green tea “pouch” strainer is filled and knotted so that the tea can release all of its vibrant flavor and later be collected and removed. The difference between my green tea bouquet garni and a traditional one is that the tea version is removed just after the soup comes to a boil instead of being left in the soup for the entire cooking process. This way, we can easily remove the tea before it starts to taste bitter.

While I like to use Genmaicha (Japanese brown rice or popcorn tea) to make my Green Tea Chicken Soup, you can use any green tea you like. I prefer Genmaicha here because it has a rich and toasty taste from the rice, but any not too expensive (and unflavored) Chinese or Japanese green tea will work well here.

If you’re feeling under the weather this fall or winter, this is the recipe for you! And even if you aren’t sick, this cozy soup can get you through the harshest of chilly days. Be generous with the ginger and green tea and you’ll have a classically soothing and antioxidant-rich combination that would leave any soup lover feeling completely nourished and satisfied.

Green Tea Chicken Soup

Makes 2 large bowls of soup.


1 Tbsp olive oil or peanut oil

1 tsp sesame oil

5 green onions, thinly sliced, whites separated from greens

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

2 stalks of celery, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

48 oz low sodium chicken broth

1- 2″ x 1″ knob of ginger, peeled and cut into 3 pieces

3 Tbsp green tea leaves, put into a large enclosed strainer or large T-Sac and knotted (I used Genmaicha)

2 Tbsp miso broth concentrate (you can also use miso paste, but use to taste)

3 1/2 oz green tea or regular soba noodles, broken into 3″short noodles

1 large cooked chicken breast, shredded

1/2 cup enoki or shiitake mushrooms

cilantro, for serving

ground black pepper to taste


1 large pot

1 medium pot



large tea strainer or large paper tea filter


1.)  Heat olive oil and sesame oil over medium high heat until it shimmers. Lower the heat, add the white parts of the green onions, and sauté until softened but not browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, and sauté them for 3-5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, drop in the ginger and green tea bouquet garni, then increase heat to high and bring the broth to a full boil.

2.)  When the broth reaches a full boil, lower the heat to a slow simmer, then remove the green tea bouquet garni after a minute. Add the miso paste, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for 15 minutes on low.

3.)  Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the green tea noodles 2 minutes shy of the package instructions. When cooked, drain the noodles and set aside.

4.)  After 15 minutes on low heat, remove the ginger knobs. Add the noodles, shredded chicken, and mushrooms, then bring the soup back to a boil. Serve piping hot with sliced green onion and cilantro, then add pepper to taste and serve.

Hankook’s Brown Rice Green Tea

My mom came to stay with me a few weeks ago, and sure enough we ended up tasting some tea samples together.  There’s no better way to catch up with your mom than to chat over lovely cup of tea, right?

For as long as I can remember, Genmaicha, has been one of her favorites.  Also known as Japanese brown rice tea or popcorn tea, Genmaicha is nutty and savory yet light-bodied.  My mom and I have only purchased Japanese brands of Genmaicha before because they are the most common to find.

I received this Brown Rice Green Tea, also known as Hyunmi Nokchaas a sample from the Korean tea company, Hankook Teas.  As picky as she is with her brown rice teas, my mom was quick to mention that she thought that this blend was delicious.  Unlike traditional Genmaicha, Hankook’s Hyunmi Nokcha mixes equal proportions of green tea and toasted rice.

Genmaicha traditionally has a higher ratio of roasted rice to tea leaves.  In Hankook’s blend, a greater amount of green tea means that the rich, vegetal flavors of this brew are more pronounced than they would be with Japanese Genmaicha.  Also, the rice in this blend is roasted instead of being popped, which helps to develop deep, almost buttery notes in the tea.

Jaksulcha is also known as “sparrow’s tongue tea.”  It is thought that the shape of the dried leaf resembles a sparrow’s tongue, and the name is generally reserved for artisan Korean green teas.  As this Jaksulcha is harvested in June, it’s brew isn’t as delicate as it would be if the leaves were picked during the Springtime, but it’s bolder flavor and warmer undertones are ideal for complementing the toasted rice flavors.

I brewed Hankook’s Brown Rice Green Tea in my favorite double-paned Korean glazed teacup that I specifically reserve for brewing good quality Jaksulcha.  This type of traditional tea ware is also known as Celadon, which refers to its jade-like color and characteristic hairline cracks that appear across its thick, shiny surface.  I’m not gonna lie, this cost me a pretty penny when I bought it at Hwa Sun Ji in L.A.’s Koreatown last year, but hey, at least I only bought one right? With such unique character and museum-worthy looks, it’s one of the pieces in my collection that I cherish most.

Tasting Notes for Hankook Tea’s Brown Rice Green Tea:

ORIGIN:  Honam Tea Estates, South Korea

BREWING TIPS:   2-3 minutes @ 200 degrees F.

THE LEAF:  Pointed, twisty green tea leaves with an equal proportion of toasted brown rice.

THE SCENT:   Like dried seaweed mixed with freshly popped popcorn.

THE STEEP:  Brews to a soft yellow.  A rich, medium-bodied tea with a sweet and nutty finish.

GET IT:  The blend is available at Hankook Tea’s website.

FOOD PAIRING:  Serve this hot or over ice with Korean Sticky Wings or Bulgogi Gimbap.  The bold flavor of the tea is the perfect palette cleanser after a few bites of spicy Korean food!

Tea in My Popcorn, and Popcorn in My Tea

If you are a Japanese green tea drinker, I’m sure you are familiar with genmaicha. Genmaicha is a type of green tea blended with toasted rice.  Sometimes during the toasting process, the brown rice actually pops giving the appearance that there is popcorn in the tea, and so it is also common to call genmaicha “popcorn tea.”  Roasty and clean tasting, this is my mom’s favorite tea.  This Green Tea Furikake recipe is a play on genmaicha, and a riff on one of my favorite Japanese dried seasonings called furikake.

Genmaicha, also called “brown rice tea” or “popcorn tea”

Furikake generally starts with a base of seaweed flakes or strips that get blended with other dry seasonings like salt or sugar.  It is commonly scattered over hot rice as a condiment.  In this recipe, I’ve replaced the seaweed with green tea, making the furikake more fragrant and making the vegetal flavor stronger.

Homemade green tea furikake verses the store-bought version

I also added a generous dose of roasted sesame seeds and gochugaru to the mix. Gochugaru are Korean chili flakes, which are commonly used in making kimchi.  You can find gochugaru at any Korean supermarket or just use crushed red pepper flakes as a substitute.  Gochugaru isn’t as hot and is a bit sweeter than the red pepper flakes you find in American supermarkets, so you would want to measure less if you go with the swap out.

Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) and bonito flakes

A scattering of bonito flakes makes this light snack complete.  These dried fish flakes are used to make Japanese dashi soup stock, and are also used over salads and rice dishes to add salty and slightly sweet umami flavor.  I read the other day that people commonly buy these flakes as snacks for their cats…some even call it “kitty crack!”  As smart and picky as cats are, take it as a sign of good taste that they can’t seem to get enough of the stuff.

Japanese tea cups make perfect serving vessels!

You can use any leftover furikake as a seasoning over hot rice, as a light coating for fish before pan frying, or even over boiled soba noodles.  And remember, the better the tea you use, the more fragrant and delicious this furikake will be.

Green Tea Furikake Popcorn

Serves 3-4.  


4 cups popped popcorn, microwave or regular

For the Furikake:

2 Tbsp green tea leaves (I used Sencha)

1 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds

1/2 tsp gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) or 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

1/4 tsp fine salt

1-2 Tbsp bonito flakes (optional)


Spice grinder or mortar and pestle set


1.)  Pop popcorn and place into large bowl.

2.)  In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle set, give green tea leaves a coarse grind.  This should take a few short spins in the grinder.  Dump ground tea into a small bowl and add sesame seeds, chili flakes, and salt.  Mix well.

3.)  Toss green tea furikake blend in with popcorn and toss well.  If using, top popcorn with bonito flakes to taste.