Red Dragon Pie

So called because of their high nutritional value, the tiny red adzuki or aduki bean packs a mighty punch and is known as the ‘red dragon’ or ‘red wonder’ bean.

I attended one of Sarah Brown’s vegetarian cookery courses in the mid-1980s and there I was introduced to Red Dragon Pie. Sarah was the first vegetarian chef to have her own TV programme, authored numerous books and her recipes remain just as relevant and reliable three decades later.

Red Dragon Pie – an aduki bean and vegetable base, topped with creamy mashed potato has long been a great plant-based version of Cottage or Shepherd’s Pie – hearty and satisfying. I’ve served it to many who claim not to like veggie food and they have not missed the meat. I’ve adapted Sarah’s original recipe over the years and this week’s version included some red, black and white quinoa since I had so much of it in the cupboard. Adding it makes the dish go further and adds nutrients. I also made use of a Fava Bean Umami paste sourced from Hodmedods ( It was on special offer and I’m glad I tried it – a rich fermented miso paste made from British grown fava beans that delivers a savoury depth to dressings, marinades, stews, soups, casseroles and bakes. The dragons are calling …

You’ll need a few pans the way I make this but it’s worth it! What’s more you don’t have to make the different elements all at the same time. There are 3 basic elements that need preparing – the vegetable base; the aduki bean, rice and quinoa mix; the mashed potato topping. Some short cuts: you can make a batch of any of these elements and hold some back or carry some forward for other dishes; the azuki beans (if you are cooking them from dried) need covering in a pan with cold water, soaking overnight, then draining and cooking in fresh water for about 45 minutes until soft. To save time and pans cook the rice, aduki beans and quinoa together. Factor in that the rice (white 15-20 mins, brown 45 mins or whatever it says on the pack) and quinoa (15-20mins) need a shorter cooking time than the aduki beans (45 mins).

For the pie base, start with a clove of garlic, an onion, a stick of celery, 2 carrots and 1-2 leeks.
Once prepped, gently sauté the chopped vegetables in 2 x 15ml (table)spoons olive, sunflower or flax oil for 5- 10 minutes until beginning to soften.
Add stock made from 200ml water and 5ml (tea)spoon vegetable bouillon powder or a vegetable stock cube, plus a generous 5ml (tea)spoon Fava Bean Umami Paste (or other miso), 2 x 15ml (table)spoons tomato puree, 1 x 5ml (tea)spoon ground cumin, 1 x 5ml (tea)spoon dried oregano. Fresh herbs can be used – any or all of oregano, basil, parsley or thyme will work. Stir well and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.
Add 100g aduki beans cooked (or equivalent canned) to the pan, along with 50g rice and 50g quinoa and stir well. I threw in a handful of fresh spinach leaves to add some green to the pie base. Simmer for about 15 minutes until thick and savoury. Check seasoning.
Whilst the base is simmering, prepare the mashed potato topping. Peel, chop and cook about 500g potatoes – add to lightly salted water, bring to the boil and keep on a rolling boil for 15-20 minutes until soft. Drain and mash. Then add a generous tablespoon of your choice of butter, vegetable spread or olive oil, a splash of milk or yogurt and a pinch or twist each of salt and pepper. Whisk until creamy using a fork or small balloon whisk. Don’t overdo it or you get wallpaper paste gloop instead of fluffy mash!
Season the base mixture to your taste. Place in a deep ovenproof dish and top with a generous layer of the mashed potato. Oven bake or grill until the topping is golden brown and the base bubbling up around the edges.
Serve with seasonal veg of your choice egs. green beans, broccoli, peas and/or a crunchy salad or slaw. This mixed salad includes some dry roasted nuts and a handful of blueberries. Ring the changes.