Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

If I were a superhero, my kryptonite would probably be anything custard or coconut. And if the two merged into one glorious dish (coconut cream pie, coconut crème brûlée, etc.) I’d be done for. This tapioca pudding fits snugly into that category.

Tapioca seems to be one of those things that befuddles people in that it's not an actual plant but rather the extracted starch of the cassava root. Cassava, also called manioc or yuca, is native to South America and is one of the top sources of carbohydrates consumed around the world. The woody tuber contains a naturally occurring toxin and therefore must undergo processing to become edible. It can then be boiled, steamed or fried and used as a starchy side dish, in soups and dumplings or baked into sweet cakes.

The familiar tapioca pearl is produced by drying the processed cassava. The result is a virtually protein-free starch which happens to be very digestible (it was actually considered a healthy food for the young, old and infirm in 19th century America).

These days I mainly consume tapioca in the form of bubble tea, thickened fruit desserts, or my personal favorite, pudding. 

Bob’s Red Mill has a fabulous recipe on the back of their small pearl tapioca package, one that involves whipped egg whites. You saw what they did for pancakes; you won’t believe what they can do for pudding.

So I experimented a bit and came up with this version, which uses coconut milk in addition to regular milk. The result is quite nuanced, not at all over the top. What IS over the top is the texture. The whipped egg whites elevate it from the pudding category to more of a whip.

Have you ever eaten a cloud? Well here’s your chance.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding
I like serving this pudding topped with fresh mango or pineapple. For a more intense coconut flavor, increase the ratio of coconut milk to regular milk, or try folding in some unsweetened shredded coconut. Inspired by the tapioca recipe on the Bob's Red Mill package.

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca (not instant)
2 cups whole milk
1 14-fluid ounce can coconut milk (light is fine)
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, separated 

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, soak the tapioca in the milk for 30 minutes. Add the coconut milk, salt and lightly beaten egg yolks; stir over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the sugar until soft peaks form. Slowly fold about 1 cup of hot tapioca into the egg whites, then gently fold the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir over low heat for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. 

Serve the pudding warm or chilled (if you choose to chill the pudding, cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming).

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