Most people probably think “bubble tea” when they hear “tapioca pearls”. But these delicious little pearls are definitely worth getting to know more intimately, especially in the context of gluten free cooking. They are inexpensive and very simple to make. They actually require no cooking – just soaking – so although no cooking skills are required, some level of patience (and a good amount of time) is.
Before we go any further lets try to answer this questions first: “What are tapioca pearls?”. They can come in different sizes and colors. The ones I will focus here are white and small, close to the size of Israeli couscous. But unlike the couscous, which is made with wheat and thus off limits for those watching their gluten intake, tapioca pearls are made from starch extracted from cassava root. So, they are little starch balls when all is said and done. Think micro potatoes that don’t need peeling!
If you are into Indian food, you have likely already had some tapioca pearls because they are often used to make desserts, like kheer pudding. Earlier this summer I had some homemade Sabudana Khichdi and I loved it. Sabudana Khichdi is a traditional dish and usually consumed during Hindu fast days. The dish includes tapioca pearls, finely chopped, cooked potatoes, finely chopped peanuts, finely grated coconut flakes, and a nice combination of spices (curry leaf, cumin seeds and green chilis). There are some variations on the recipe and the ingredients may vary depending on whethe Sabudana Khichdi is served during the fast or outside the fasting days, and my friend who made the dish for us also mentioned that a more protein-rich version of Sabudana Khichdi can be made using quinoa, and she suggested I check a blog by another friend of hers called Indfused, which I did and so should you, especially if you are interested in creative Indian/American fusion cooking (FYI: Infused is not a vegan blog, so keep that in mind).
Back to the the version of Sabudana Khichdi I had – it was a delicious addition to our summer cook out and prompted me to get some tapioca pearls of my own and start experimenting. The recipe below is the second iteration and deviates from the original recipe quite a bit. I took some liberties so my Tapioca Pearl Salad is Sabudana Khichdi inspired, but not meant to be “traditional” in any way. First point of difference is that I left the potatoes out. In my view, leaving potatoes out does not affect the taste nor the nutritional profile of the dish, yet saves some time and effort. I also left the peanuts out and replaces them with slivered almonds. I used slightly different spice mix, to make the dish a bit more fragrant. Finally, I toasted my coconut flakes, because in my mind coconut is just better toasted!
The key to making tapioca pearls is patience. All you need to do is rinse the pearls in cold water, then soak them in enough cold water, usually in 1:2 ratio (for example 1 cup pearls and 2 cups water), for 2-3 hours. How do you know they are ready? They should feel loose, not stuck together, and soft, yet slightly chewy, to bite – think pasta al dente. You can go a bit further if you prefer softer texture, but you do want your pearls to remain pearly, not mushy, so don’t overdo it.
Now a key to make the dish really flavorful and spices vibrant, is toasting the spices. I use a frying pan here, and, although you can dry toast the spices, I do add a bit of oil in this case and let the spices toast for one to two minutes before adding the almonds to finish it off. I pour the toasted spice and almond mix over the drained tapioca pearls, instead the other way round, but that’s more of a personal preference I suppose. The toasted coconut flakes come next, and the chopped fresh cilantro is the final touch. You can serve this dish immediately, you can heat it up more and serve hot, or you can leave it in the refrigerator overnight and serve it cold. It actually works across the range of temperatures so it could work as a surprising pasta salad at your next picnic. It is a great, easy and inexpensive dish to make for your next pot luck or any other get together!
Tapioca Pearls with Almonds and Toasted Coconut Flakes
What you’ll need:
2 cups tapioca pearl
4 cups water
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup coconut flakes or shreds, unsweetened
2 tablespoon vegetable (or canola) oil
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
What you’ll do:
- Rinse the tapioca pearls under cold water and place into a large bowl. Cover with water and let stand for 2 to 3 hours. The pearls will absorb water and they should become soft and al dente.
- Drain the pearls well, pat dry with a paper towel and put into a large mixing bowl that you will use for serving as well. You can use the same bowl you used for soaking just remember to dry it well in the meantime.
- Heat the oil over medium high in a large frying pan. Add the dry spices (cumin, curry and turmeric powder) and toast in oil for 1 minute.
- Add slivered almonds and toast for another 2 to 3 minutes, until almonds start to brown.
- Pour the hot almond and spice mix over tapioca pearls and mix well.
- Toast coconut flakes in a toaster oven or a frying pan for 2-3 minutes. You need to keep an eye on your coconut flakes as they go from beautifully toasted to inedible in a blink of an eye! If you are using the frying pan, you can use the same pan you just used for almonds and spices, just don’t add extra oil as coconut flakes should be fatty enough.
- Add hot, toasted coconut flakes to your tapioca pearls and mix well.
- Let the mix stand for couple minutes and while those flavors are combining, wash and chop fresh cilantro.
- Sprinkle the cilantro over your tapioca pearls, mix again and serve!
Copyright ©Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2017