Winter brings out a craving for comfort food– and for me, it’s international. American mac ‘n’ cheese, home made hot chocolate, meatloaf with mashed potatoes or Filipino omelets made with tomatoes and shrimp paste (bagoong), thick bean (mongo) stew over steamed rice, or crispy squash and shrimp fritters (ukoy). I wonder if the Asian market sells bagoong; I truly love the omelet with its unmistakable duet of sweet and salty.
One dish from my childhood actually crosses both cuisines and I was reminded of it today as I was rummaging through my pantries, pushing items around to make room for my new stash of Indian ingredients. There it was, intact and unopened– a bag of tiny tapioca pearls. Does anyone even make tapioca these days? It’s way better than plain old vanilla pudding with those tiny, translucent, chewy pearls suspended in vanilla custard. My mother used to make it often; it takes a bit of patience because you need to frequently stir the tapioca while it cooks to ensure it doesn’t burn. It’s worth it. In the Philippines, she says they use much larger pearls; I think I would love that even more!
My guys don’t care for tapioca; Ken told me it would be “fantastic” if I could make it without the “gooey things.” Heavy sigh. For Kurt, tapioca, like snickerdoodles, is devoid of the “food porn” factor; he’d rather pass than eat the extra calories. Consequently, I’ve never made it much. I don’t know why I even had a bag of pearls in my kitchen pantry, but today, I’m opening it to make some tapioca pudding. I will share it with my mom.
I usually make tapioca by soaking the pearls in water, then cooking them in milk, sugar, vanilla and eggs until the mixture has thickened. I like to eat it warm, but it’s good cold, too. This time, I’m following a different recipe that I found on the Bob’s Red Mills website; you can find it here. It uses a technique that is slightly different from my customary process; you separate the eggs. The yolks cook with the milk and tapioca, but you whip the whites and stir them into the custard, resulting in a lighter pudding.
Here’s how I did it:
In a medium saucepan,soak the tapioca in water for 30 minutes.
Separate the eggs. Add milk, salt, vanilla, half the sugar and egg yolks to the tapioca; don’t worry if there is leftover water in the pan from soaking.
Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until custard is thick.
While the custard cooks, beat the egg whites to foamy, soft peaks, then gradually add the remaining sugar and beat to stiff peaks.
Add some of the hot custard (1/2 to 3/4 c) to the egg whites to temper the whites.
Add the tempered egg whites into the tapioca and stir gently to combine. I ended up using a whisk.
Cook another 3 minutes over low heat. Pour into a bowl. If chilling, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
Serve warm or cold, with whatever adornments (whipped cream, fruit) you desire. I like mine plain…