I have tried several new recipes in the past few weeks that I haven’t been thrilled with, and when that happens I usually retreat to my mother’s recipe files to find recipes that I know are good and that I can count on. There are so many old family recipes that, despite six years of blogging, there are still many I haven’t posted. Tapioca pudding was a favorite dessert in my family and my mother and grandmother made it when they needed something quick and easy. I like to serve it with fresh, in-season fruit, but if that isn’t available a small can of drained crushed pineapple folded into the pudding is a delicious substitute. Eating homemade tapioca pudding is one of my earliest food memories.
If you have never tried this pudding or if it has been many years since you prepared it I hope you will give it a try. It’s basic and old fashioned and is my idea of very satisfying comfort food. There are two kinds of tapioca for sale in grocery stores. Some has to be soaked overnight before it is cooked…easy to do. Just cover 1/2 cup tapioca with 1 cup of water and let it soak overnight. Drain the next day and proceed with the recipe. There is also quick-cook tapioca available that doesn’t require the overnight soak. Just be sure to read the label of the product you buy. My favorite brand is Bob’s Red Mill Small Pearl Tapioca.
Just in case you are interested in a little tapioca trivia…Tapioca is a starch that’s made from the root of a plant, Manihot esculenta, that is native to much of South America and the Caribbean, and it is grown worldwide today. The world’s main producers of the plant are Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand. In the United States, it’s commonly called cassava, yucca or simply the tapioca plant. After cassava plants are harvested, their roots are treated to remove toxins found in the plant. The starch is then processed into one of several popular forms: powder, flakes, sticks or ball-shaped “pearls.” Tapioca pearls are the most popular form. Tapioca is almost completely free of both protein and gluten. In addition to tapioca pudding and bubble tea, tapioca is often used as a thickening agent when cooking, especially in soups. Because tapioca doesn’t have a strong taste of its own, it can be added to many dishes to thicken them without changing the taste.
- ½ cup small pearl tapioca
- 3 cups whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine tapioca, milk and salt in a medium sauce pan and cook over medium high heat to bring the mixture to a barely simmer stage. Lower the heat and cook, uncovered, on low, gradually adding the sugar, until the tapioca pearls plump up and the mixture has thickened. Depending on the type of tapioca you use and if you have presoaked the tapioca as some brands call for, this could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes of cooking on very low heat. Stir occasional so the pudding doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
- There are 2 ways to incorporate the eggs into the pudding. The first way is to beat the eggs (whites and yolks together) in a separate bowl. Mix small amounts of the hot tapioca mixture into the eggs to equalize the temperature to avoid curdling and cooking the eggs.
- Return the eggs to the pan with the tapioca. Increase the heat to medium and stir for several minutes to achieve a thick pudding consistency. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in vanilla. Serve either warm or chilled.
- The second way of preparing tapioca, if you like a light, fluffy pudding, is to separate the eggs. Lightly beat the yolks with a fork and mix them into the hot mixture the same way as in step 2. When the pudding has cooked to the desired thickness beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Remove the pan of pudding from the stove and gently fold the beaten whites into it. Serve warm or chilled.