Here is an easy gluten free dessert recipe for coconut pudding thickened with tapioca starch. As a thickener, tapioca comes in a granular quick-cooking variety as well as small pearls. Large tapioca pearls are used in bubble tea. Quick-cooking tapioca is found in most grocery stores; for pearl tapioca visit an Asian specialty grocery store in your Seattle neighborhood.
Tapioca comes from the cassava (Manihot esculenta) plant. Cassava, also known as manioc, yuca, and many other names, is native to Latin America (Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Caribbean). The cassava tuber comes in sweet and bitter varieties and is a staple in South America, the Caribbean, and many cultures across Africa and Asia, like the potato is in America. Cassava root or tubers can be found fresh and frozen in specialty Asian markets throughout Seattle—for a list, see the recommended links at the end of this article. Yuca is not to be confused with yucca (Yucca L.) or agave, a desert plant.
Coconut tapioca pudding
Makes 4 servings
1 can (13½ ounces) coconut milk
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or ⅓ cup small pearl tapioca
1 tablespoon palm sugar, dark sugar (brown sugar, muscovado, etc.), or white table sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional toppings: ½ cup toasted coconut, ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts, 1 cup fresh or canned chopped tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, star fruit, banana, lychee), 1 small can coconut cream.
- If using small pearl tapioca, you must first soften the starch before preparing the pudding, by covering the tapioca pearls with water by 2 inches, bringing to a boil, draining, and rinsing with cold water. Palm sugar or a dark sugar will turn the pudding a creamy-tan color, while white sugar will produce a creamy-white pudding.
- In a small (1 quart) saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk, quick cooking tapioca or softened pearl tapioca*, and sugar. Let stand five minutes.
- Place saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil (the mixture doesn’t stop boiling when stirred). For small pearl tapioca, reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking tapioca for 10 minutes, or until the tapioca pearls are tender and clear all the way through (pinch one to check). For quick-cooking tapioca, as soon as the mixture comes to a full boil, remove from heat.
- Stir in vanilla. Cool 20 minutes; pudding will thicken as it cools. Stir pudding before serving. Serve warm or chill up to 3 days. Top each serving with any of the optional toppings you have chosen.
Chocolate tapioca variation: Place ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces in a small bowl. After removing from heat and stirring in vanilla, pour hot pudding over chocolate pieces and stir until chocolate is melted and completely blended into the pudding. Chocolate is complemented by raspberries, orange slices, or coconut cream dusted with cardamom or cinnamon.