Red Dragon Pie

Aduki beans. Where have you been all my life?

I’m a sucker for hearty, warming, winter one-pot wonders and this is one of the most wonderful of them all. I have been seeing aduki beans on supermarket shelves for a few years now, but because I already have row upon row of jars full of pulses and lentils I never added them to my must-have pantry staples. What a fool I was.

The tiny, reddish-brown bean with a cream coloured seam and sweet, nutty flavour is endlessly versatile.  They are used in Asian cooking for sweet and savoury dishes, including soups, desserts and as a dim sum filling. They are considered to be the king of beans in Japan and are prized for their health-giving properties: reputedly benefiting the liver and the kidneys. Me, I just love the taste and texture.

The Chinese call aduki beans ‘Red Dragon’, which is where this delicious vegetarian alternative to shepherd’s pie gets its name.  With a couple of simple swaps you can also make it vegan.


RECIPE – feeds 4 easily

500 ml dark vegetable stock

120g aduki beans, soaked overnight

55g brown rice, soaked overnight

2 carrots, finely diced

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1/2 butternut squash, chopped into bite-sized pieces

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp miso paste

For the topping:

750g sweet potatoes, mashed

1 tsp salt

50g unsalted butter

60g cheddar, grated

flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Alternative topping:

500 ml water

1 tsp salt

120g easy-cook polenta

30g butter

60g cheddar, grated

paprika to garnish

Make it vegan:

use olive oil or vegan Flora in the topping in place of the butter

use grate-able vegan cheese in place of the cheddar


Soak the beans and rice together overnight in cold water. The next day drain and then rinse well in running water. Place in a large pan and cover with the vegetable stock, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 50 minutes or until tender. If you have a pressure cooker the job is much quicker; follow the instructions for your own device, but mine takes around 12 minutes to cook the beans and rice.

While you are preparing the beans, coat the squash chunks in a little oil, season lightly and roast in a 200C/ gas 6 for around 30 minutes until soft and just starting to caramelise at the edges. This is another worthwhile step; roasting vegetables accentuates their sweetness and adds further dimensions to any dish in which they are used.

Keep the oven on, at 200C/ gas 6.

Meanwhile boil the sweet potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, then mash together with the salt and butter. Do not add any liquid; because this is a pie topping the mash should be fairly stiff.

When they are ready, transfer the beans and rice to a large pan, together with the stock they were cooked in, and add the roasted squash, carrots and garlic. Season, and ensure everything is just covered with liquid. Simmer for 15 minutes until the carrots are soft; the aduki beans should just be starting to break down, making the cooking liquid thick and creamy. Remove a little of the cooking liquid and mix it with the miso paste and olive oil, then stir it back into the pan, ensuring it is thoroughly mixed.

Transfer the aduki bean mixture to an ovenproof dish, then spread the sweet potato mash all over the top. Scatter the grated cheddar over the top and bake for 30 mins until the top is golden and crunchy. The cooking liquid will probably bubble up through the mash in places while it cooks, this is a very good thing!

Garnish with the parsley and serve alongside a simple green salad or steamed vegetables.

If you are making the polenta topping:

Don’t make the sweet potato mash (obviously!). Instead, after transferring the aduki bean mixture to an ovenproof dish, boil 500ml of water with 1 tsp of salt and when it is at a rolling boil, pour the polenta into the water in a slow and steady stream, whisking continuously. Return it to the boil and keep on whisking until the polenta is thick, smooth and cooked through. This will only take a few minutes.

Stir in the butter and most of the cheese (reserving a little to scatter over the top), then quickly pour the polenta over the top of the aduki bean mixture. Spread it out so it is even, then scatter with the reserved cheese and a good sprinkle of paprika.

Put it into the 200C oven, close the door then immediately reduce the oven setting to 140C/ gas 1. Leave the dish in the unopened, falling oven for 30-40 minutes until the topping is golden. Polenta always tastes better when served warm rather than piping hot.

Serve alongside a simple green salad or steamed vegetables.

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