Tapioca is a very popular and versatile ingredient for Vietnamese desserts. In my house it’s categorized as comfort food. I have the fondest memories of my grandmother making tapioca on cold winter nights. The addition of coconut milk gave off a deep, sweet aroma that filled the house. That comforting smell meant something delicious and creamy was coming. The texture is silky and smooth and tastes a little luxurious. And it’s just sweet enough to satisfy the inner child without sending me into a diabetic coma.
It’s a bonus that it’s also pretty darn easy to make.
This particular recipe is one that I’ve thrown together over the years, so I apologize if it’s not perfect. However, the concepts are pretty simple and it’s a hard recipe to flub, so feel free to experiment with it.
TAPIOCA WITH MUNG BEANS AND COCONUT
Serves: 2 really hungry people, or 10-12 modest folk
1 cup tapioca
1 1/2 cup mung bean paste*
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 – 14.5 ounce can coconut milk
2 cups shredded coconut meat
*MUNG BEAN PASTE
(I usually make this up to a week ahead as it takes soaking time. I make several batches and use it in several different recipes. Mung Bean paste is a VERY versatile ingredient. It acts as a thickener for everything from soups to sauces to desserts. Also freezes well and keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month. No kidding! Just store in an air tight container. For more info on mung beans, go here >>>)
Soak 3-4 cups of dried yellow mung bean for 6-8 hours or overnight. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry out approximately 50%. With a mortar and pestle mash the mung beans into a paste, until it clumps together like a loose bread dough. Store in air tight container in the refrigerator. Use willy nilly.
Back to the tapioca dessert.
First, start with some tapioca pearls. I buy mine in the Asian grocery store because there’s way more variety, but any kind of tapioca will do. Asian-style tapioca pearls come in many sizes: small, medium and jumbo. They also come in lots of different colors and flavors. I have yet to see this kind of variety in most mainstream grocery stores. I tend to like the small- and medium-sized pearls because they’re the most versatile and cook fairly quickly, which is perfect for my impatient personality.
I’m cooking this dish up in a 3-quart sauce pan. Follow the package directions for cooking up the tapioca. I typically use 5 parts water to 1 part tapioca. Over high heat bring the mixture to a boil, turn the heat down to medium so that it continues to bubble softly for about 8-10 minutes. The pearls should turn 75% translucent. Make sure to keep your eye on it, stir and scrape the sides of the pan so that you don’t get sticky globs. You want it to be silky and smooth throughout.
Next add a cup and a half of mung bean paste, stir and let it cook together for about 5 minutes.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of sugar or to taste. I like it mildly sweet. My cousin likes it to taste like candy. Your choice.
Stir and let it cook another 5-7 minutes.
Keep stirring and watching it cook until the mung bean and sugar are thoroughly mixed with the tapioca and the mixture becomes more and more opaque.
Add 1 can of coconut milk. Come to mama! I love coconut milk. It is a staple in my pantry just like tomato sauce and spaghetti noodles. I use coconut milk in a TON of dishes and never ever regret it.
Next add 2 cups of shredded coconut meat. This is NOT dried coconut. This is fresh coconut meat that has been shredded and frozen. I buy this in the frozen food section of the Asian-grocery, but I’ve been seeing it in mainstream stores these days. The other option here is to use a frozen fruit puree, which I’ve definitely seen in mainstream groceries. My favorite brand is Perfect Puree of Napa Valley if you can get it. You can also experiment with other fruit flavors here. Go crazy.
When you get it frozen, rinse it and then squeeze all the excess liquid out before you add it to the tapioca. You don’t want to thin the night thickened tapioca out with too much water.
Keep cooking until it’s all cooked through, about another 5 minutes. Should remind you of Chinese egg drop soup.
Then dish it up. You can serve it either cold or warm. I particularly love it warm on cold winter nights. It just feels decadent.