In Korea, nothing says summer more than bingsu (빙수) which is a shaved ice treat with various sweet toppings. Its popularity is beyond description. You can find it practically everywhere — high-end hotels, cafes, bakeries, specialty shops, street vendors, etc. Variations that all these commercial places have created are infinite, but one topping that most Koreans can’t do without is sweetened red beans called pat (팥) known as azuki beans in the U.S.). These red beans are tiny and have a white ridge on one side. Bingsu topped with sweetened red beans is called patbingsu (팥빙수). Patbingsu is the variation of bingsu that we grew up eating!
Making patbingsu at home is pretty easy if you have an electric ice shaver. Mine was $30 on Amazon and works very well. It’s totally worth it! Imagine having bingsu anytime you want on hot summer days and not having to pay $12 for it. As an alternative, use a blender or a food processor if it has an ice shaving or crunching blade.
The most important ingredient in patbingsu is obviously pat, the beans. Sure you can find canned sweetened red beans in Korean/Asian markets, but nothing beats homemade red beans that are made with high quality beans. Dried red beans are sold in Korean/Asian markets. The Whole Foods store in my neighborhood also sells good quality azuki beans in bulk. Cooking the red beans is easy, but it takes time as they need to be slow cooked. Soaking the beans is not necessary. The cooked beans should be soft, mostly intact, and moderately sweet. I usually cook one pound at a time. It may seem like a lot, but when you spend over 2 hours cooking them. you might as well make enough to have bingsu a few times. Or, puree the leftover (or pass it through a sieve) and make danpatjuk (단팥죽), sweet red bean porridge – another popular sweet treat in Korea.
Patbingsu is usually topped with injeolmi (인절미), a type of rice cake (tteok) made with sweet rice powder. Fresh injeolmi from your Korean market will be great for bingsu. Some Korean markets also carry frozen rice cake pieces made for bingsu. You can try making a simple version in the microwave as I’m showing here. Koreans typically drizzle condensed milk over bingsu to flavor the ice, but leave it out if you want, or use regular milk instead. You can make homemade condensed milk by simmering the milk (2 cups) with some sugar (1/4 cup or to taste) over medium low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until it’s reduced by half. Stir frequently while simmering.
I like patbingsu in its simplest form – pat, tteok and some condensed milk, but feel free to load it up! Try it with your favorite fruits and/or ice cream and/or anything else you want — green tea powder, roasted grain powder (misugaru, 미수가루), nuts, cookies, etc. The only thing left to do is to indulge in it and feel your whole body cool down on a hot and humid summer day!
For the rice cake:
3/4 cup sweet rice powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
For the red beans:
Discard broken or rotten beans and rinse the beans. In a large pot, add the beans with 4 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, uncovered, over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and boil for 5 min.
Return the beans to the pot with 4 cups of fresh water. Cover, and simmer over medium low heat for about 40 minutes. The liquid should have almost evaporated at this point. Add 2 cups of water. Cover, and continue to simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes. Add 2 more cups of water. Continue to simmer, covered, for another 40 to 50 minutes, gently stirring occasionally to make sure the beans are not sticking at the bottom. Check the water level. Add more water if needed.
Gently stir in the salt, sugar and honey. Continue to simmer, uncovered this time, for about 30 minutes, gently stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary. The beans should be liquidy. Most of the liquid will be soaked up by the beans even after being cooked. Transfer to a container and cool. Keep it in the fridge up to a week, or in the freezer for a few weeks. Thin it with cold water, if you want, when ready to use it again.
For the rice cake:
Cover with ceramic wrap. Microwave for 2 minutes. Rotate and microwave for another 30 seconds or until translucent. Remove from the microwave and let it sit for 5 minutes. Knead well with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes for a chewier rice cake.
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the red beans. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of condensed milk. Top it with a few rice cake pieces and your favorite fruit pieces, ice cream, and/or any other desired toppings.