Bless the Mayans. Besides predicting the world will end this year, leaving behind impressive pyramids and playing a sort of basketball game with the heads of sacrificial victims or enemies, they were also responsible for discovering and utilizing a multitude of foods we still enjoy today.
Cacao, for one, makes me forever indebted to the Mayans, who used to drink it pretty much the same way we drink cocoa nowadays (minus the sugar part); chia seeds, that have taken the health food community by storm, were also known to the Mayans who might not have been aware of the omega 3 fatty acids and the fiber the seeds contain but they knew they were mighty nutritious. And then there is tapioca, a by-product of the cassava root. Indigenous to Brazil and most of South America, the Spanish and Portuguese managed to spread it to the four corners of the world, and now cassava is grown pretty much everywhere.The Mayans, though, figured out how to remove the poisonous toxins before eating it, a process still required today.
Tapioca comes in many forms but in this country it’s mainly found as small or large pearls and flour. Being gluten-free, the flour is ideal for baking, mixing it with other gluten-free flours. Tapioca lacks any protein but it does contain vitamin B and it is a decent source of fiber.
I like using tapioca as a thickening agent (in flour form) in any dessert where fruit needs to be cooked – it’s much gentler on the palate than cornstarch.
For that old staple, tapioca pudding, small pearls are recommended as large ones require overnight soaking.
Here is my true and tried Tapioca Pudding Recipe, which is adapted from Bob Red Mill’s .
1/3 C Small Tapioca Pearls
3 C Milk (you can use rice or almond milk too)
2 Eggs, separated
1/2 C Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed (or 1/2 ts vanilla extract)
1/4 ts Salt
- Soak the tapioca pearls in water for 30 minutes.
- Drain, place in a sauce pan with the milk, add the salt and heat on medium heat until boiling.
- Break up the egg yolks with a fork in a small bowl. Add a ladle of the hot tapioca mixture and whisk vigorously, then pour into the pan and keep on whisking. Simmer, uncovered, for 10/15 minutes, stirring often.
- Beat the egg whites with the sugar to soft peaks. Fold about 3/4 cup of hot tapioca into the egg whites, then gently fold the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir over low heat for about 3 minutes.
- Remove from the stove and scrape the vanilla seeds into the pudding. Serve warm or chilled.
You can serve it as is, or add fresh or dried fruit. Cocoa powder added before folding the egg whites in, will make a great chocolate tapioca pudding.
You can even make it without sugar and fold agave syrup to taste at the end.