I recently bought a book of Asian recipes. The author seems to have a huge crush on red bean (azuki) paste, since about a half of the recipes call for it. Unfortunately, the availability of red beans seems to be on about the same level as dodo eggs. Is there something that can be used as a substitute to get a close approximate of the taste and texture?
Black bean paste is also incorporated into Asian cuisine, and has a similar flavor, although earthier. Add a little sugar, maybe a little ground cashew or peanuts for nuttiness. It won't be the same, but it should work well enough.
Since black beans are more common, this may work well enough for you.
White (navy) beans. They have a very soft, somewhat creamy, neutral flavor (at least in comparison to kidney beans or black beans). They're used by Japanese people to make shiro-an (white bean paste), so I guess that means it has their seal of approval. So go ahead and use navy beans. They can be found in just about any supermarket in America. I'd personally use home-cooked beans instead of canned beans.
Well it really depends on the dish. If we do a sweet dish with red beans like japanese mochi, you can be creative and add things like whipped cream, fruit or chocolate. But if its like a red bean porridge/soup, I recommend something like blackbeans or any kind of nut/beans and try sweetening the taste. The reason wht red beans are common in asian dishes is because they are easy to find in those countries and taste sweet. So substituting with something sweet would be a good idea.