Just mention the word ‘tapioca’ and you strike fear into the hearts of many. It seems the cheap pudding has had a bad rap since its history as an economical dessert in difficult times and, worse, as served up on school lunch trays in a gelatinous lump. My grandfather used to refer to it as “frog’s eggs”, but then he also used to tell us that some of the raisins in the pack still had legs on them. It’s a wonder I eat anything with that kind of early input. Tapioca is really the name of the starch and some people also call the milk-based pudding sago. In case you weren’t paying attention in school, it comes from the cassava plant and little elves do some secret stuff to it in order to render it edible. I went to a special school. It also comes in a variety of sizes and you may have enjoyed the biggest ones in your boba or milk pearl tea.
The interesting thing about travelling is that you get to see what delights from your past, ones that you’d assumed long gone, have taken hold in different countries and continued through their own evolution. In South East Asia, tapioca is such a beast. In Asia, tapioca is not simply relegated to being a stodgy boarding school paste, it is celebrated with flavours such as pandan, ginger, lemon, sesame and tea! In South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh it is even popular to use tapioca with chillies and spices to make a savoury dish. Oh yes, it’s very exciting. This recipe is not from any particular cuisine but takes the flavours of Asia, en generale, to make something sweet that even my grandfather might’ve approved of. Try it. Really.
Green Tea, Lemongrass and Ginger Tapioca Pudding
1 Cup Tapioca
2.5 Cups Green Tea (2.5 cups water and one tablespoon of green tea, I used everyday Chinese tea)
1 Stalk Lemongrass chopped into 4 or five pieces
1 Pinch of Salt
Condensed Milk (or you could substitute coconut cream which is less sweet but very delicious)
Cover 1 Cup of tapioca in warm or cool water (ie. not cold or hot) and set aside for 20 minutes. In the meantime, make up the green tea and leave to steep. It needs to be strong so, you can leave it until you are ready to cook the tapioca, about 10-15 minutes.
Drain all the water off the tapioca, strain the leaves from the tea and place both in a pot with a pinch of salt and the lemongrass. Bring the whole lot up to the boil and then turn immediately down to a simmer for about 5-10 minutes. It is quite gloopy and spitty so mind out. You will think you are in Rotorua.
You will start to see most of the beads turn clear and you will know it’s about ready when it no longer tastes chalky. At this point, turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 5-10 minutes and most of the remaining white beads will go clear.
Pull out the lemongrass to use as a garnish and put about 1/2 a cup of tapioca in each serving vessel. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of condensed milk and then a teaspoon or so of the ginger syrup. Stick a piece of lemongrass and a spoon in a serve. The lucky recipients can stir to their heart’s content before tucking in.
Boiling Mud by SidPix on Flickr