10.15.12 Puddin' Tang

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photos by gluttonforlife
My father was the sole bastion of masculinity in our family. Despite a powerhouse wife and three headstrong daughters, he managed to hold his own witthout being the least bit tyrannical. A relentless tease, he could often convert an estrogen meltdown into a laughing fit. (Though occasionally, I'll admit, it did backfire.) He never expected to be waited on but, with all those women around, he didn't spend much time in the kitchen. In fact, I don't think he ever made anything more complicated than toast. He wasn't picky, though. Pretty much anything you served him, he ate with gratitude. There was just one thing he couldn't stomach: lumps. He balked at cream of wheat. Especially if you forgot to stir and it formed those mealy lumps. He would take a tentative bite and then, quite literally, gag. We all found this hysterical. I only saw it happen a few times, but the memory is vivid. Forty years later, it came to mind as I made a big batch of tapioca pudding. Perhaps not quite my dad's idea of a celebratory dish but I'll eat it for him today, on what would have been his 88th birthday.
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have a ball

Did you know that tapioca is made from cassava (Manihot esculenta), a plant native to South America? It's a starchy, tuberous root that is dried and formed into those perfect pearls. High in carbohydrates, cassava is an important, drought-tolerant food crop in the developing world, and it appears with regularity in Southeast Asian cuisine, but in our neck of the world it's largely associated with old-fashioned desserts. I seem to be missing the lump-loathing gene and have always been extremely fond of tapioca pudding. Its gorgeously gooey viscosity resembles nothing so much as frog's eggs. Creamy, custardy and neutral enough to support almost any flavor, it's a perfect foil for vivid tastes like chocolate, ginger and citrus.


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pearls of wisdom
Despite its gummy texture, tapioca is gluten-free. (It's also virtually free of protein and vitamins, so it's not exactly a health food.) The pearls cook much faster when they are first rehydrated by soaking. They easily absorb water equal to twice their volume, becoming delightfully rubbery and swollen. Their pleasant chewiness is front and center in the "bubble teas" (boba) popularized in Asia, and now widely available in Chinatown. One note: These photos feature large tapioca pearls but the recipe below calls for the smaller ones; not instant (which is good for thickening pies).
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turn over a new leaf
I created this recipe last summer to conclude a Southeast Asian supper. It features the irresistible floral-citrusy tang of kaffir lime leaves—what I prefer to call wild lime—and two rich milks commonly found in the tropics: coconut and condensed. It's a bit decadent, I'm not going to lie to you. I made it this weekend, because the oral surgeon who removed my two right widsom teeth told me to stick to soups and puddings. It went down like a charm, lumps and all.

Coconut Tapioca Pudding

serves 6
  • — 2 cups organic coconut milk
  • — 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • — 1/2 cup small pearl tapioca (not quick-cooking)
  • — 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • — 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • — 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

Combine coconut milk and condensed milk in saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir in tapioca, lime juice, lime leaves and ginger. Return to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until pudding thickens and reduces, about 30-45 minutes. Use tongs to remove lime leaves. Transfer to a bowl or individual ramekins and press saran wrap gently onto the top to prevent a skin forming on top. Cool slightly and serve warm, or refrigerate until well chilled (it will firm up considerably).

Serving suggestions: dollop of crème fraiche; sprinkle of toasted coconut; fresh or macerated raspberries; chopped, toasted almonds.

Download recipe  Download Recipe


what a sweet post! and what a bittersweet day this must be. but i'm in full agreement with your dad about lumpy, creamy things ie tapioca, rice pudding. definite gag!
nikki on October 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm —
Yeah, those textures are pretty polarizing. Where do you stand on mayonnaise and eggplant?
laura on October 15, 2012 at 6:03 pm —
MMMMmmmm, I love tapioca. I love all things pudding really. And I make a memorable coconut rice pudding. But tapioca, which one of my she-ros, Laurie Colwin called 'nursery food' is just right for today- rainy and glum. Blessings on your gums and on this memory of your father. So good to share this with you! Love, S
Suzi Banks Baum on October 15, 2012 at 7:49 pm —
LOVE Laurie Colwin! xo
laura on October 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm —
i hate to admit it but i do love mayo on some sandwiches, french fries and i love eggplant but it cant be plain--needs to have something with it. but then again if i eat yogurt and someone sneezes, it instantly goes in the garbage...sorry you asked?
nikki on October 16, 2012 at 9:51 am —
I actually LOVE mayo, especially Kewpie (Japanese kind) and homemade, of course. I also adore hearing about everyone's amusing food fetishes and revulsions.
laura on October 16, 2012 at 8:23 pm —
Touching post, Laura. In fact you've inspired me to make this recipe for my aging father who on the other side of the spectrum is a fanatic for all things lumpy and creamy!
Stefanie on October 18, 2012 at 12:52 pm —
Now that's what I like to hear!
laura on October 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm —