Tapioca is a root starch derived from the cassava, or yuca plant. The cassava plant is native to South America and the West Indies, where its thick, fibrous roots are used in a variety of forms: bread flour, laundry starch, an alcoholic brew, and of course, tapioca pudding. It's often used to thicken soups and sweeten the flavor of baked goods and it is the main ingredient in tapioca pudding.
Here is a recipe for tapioca pudding and one for Bubble Tea which is a tapioca pearl drink!
This tapioca pudding recipe make a classic-tasting pudding. There are endless options for variations - you can add chopped chocolate and cocoa powder to taste for a chocolate version. Next time around I'm going to do one based in coconut milk with added toasted coconut folded in at the end....lots to experiment with!
3 cups milk, divided
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2 extra-large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split along the length (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
Pour 3/4 cup of the milk into a medium-sized, thick-bottomed pot. Add the tapioca and soak for 60 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, sugar, and the remaining milk. Scrape the vanilla bean along its length with a knife and add that bean "paste" along with the bean itself to the pot (if you are using vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean stir it in at the very end, after the pudding is completely cooked). Over medium heat slowly bring the mixture just barely to a boil, stirring all along - this should take about 15 minutes. Reduce the heat and let the mixture fall to a simmer - you keep it here until the tapioca is fully cooked, another 20 minutes or so. Keep in mind this time can be significantly longer (or shorter). The tapioca will tell you when it is ready if you watch carefully. The tapioca beads will swell up and become almost entirely translucent. The custardy part of pudding will thicken dramatically as well - keep tasting and assessing at this stage. It is even more critical to keep stirring at this point avoid dreaded scorching. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. This tapioca tastes its best when served warm, but is still delicious cold as well.
1/2 cup chilled, cooked large tapioca pearls (if substituting smaller tapioca, use 1/3 cup)*
1 cup crushed ice
1 cup very strong chilled black tea (or orange pekoe tea or Lichee tea)
1 cup milk, or to taste
Honey or sugar to taste
Place the pearls in a large parfait glass. Combine all remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker, and shake vigorously until the mixture is frothy. Pour into the glass, and serve with extra-thick straws.
Yields one (16-ounce) drink.
How To Cook Tapioca Pearls:
6 to 8 cups water (the ration is a minimum 7:1 water to tapioca pearls)
1 cup tapioca pearls
In a large pot (Make sure the pot is big enough so boiling tapioca water will not spill over) over high heat, add water and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the tapioca pearls so that they do not stick together (after 1 minute, the tapioca pearls should float). Reduce heat to medium and let boil, covered, for approximately 15 minutes; turn the heat off and let the tapioca pearls site, covered, for an additional 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove from heat, rinse the tapioca pearls in cold water, and drain.
*NOTE: The cooking time above is a general guideline. If you shorten the cooking time, you will get chewier tapioca balls. Cook longer and you will get less elastic tapioca balls.
Add the cooked tapioca pearl to your favorite Bubble Tea recipe.