Saturday, July 12, 2014

Taro Tapioca Dessert Soup with Taro Balls

As I've said before, dessert is not very typical after a Chinese meal. That's not to say that there aren't desserts in the Chinese repertoire, there are quite a few. Dessert shops specializing in Chinese desserts are in fact quite popular, especially amongst younger generations. Larger Chinese restaurants occasionally serve some type of dessert soup, but it's usually an afterthought. The problem for me is that in my area, I've come to expect disappointment when it comes to dessert after a restaurant meal. On a typical day, you get a passable but not great bowl of dessert soup, most likely red(azuki) bean. On a good day, you may also have a selection of puddings, although they were probably made from a package. On a bad day, you get a watered down lukewarm bowl of dessert soup that's not much better than having no dessert at all.
Growing up however, restaurants seemed to put more care into dessert. Occasionally, there would be almond jello, mung bean soup, coconut tapioca dessert, and mango pudding. I understand where the changes are coming from though. Customers don't usually order dessert, so dessert is only given for free when you're dining with a larger party. However, I think that if you're going to serve dessert at all, you might as well do it right. Most Chinese dessert soups are also very easy to make, so there's not really any excuse for not putting in the little effort needed.
Today, I'm sharing a recipe for one of my favorite dessert soups, Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca(
芋頭椰汁西米露). This is one of those recipes where measurements don't really matter as long as the general methods are the same. With the addition of whole milk and sweetened condensed milk, this Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca is much milkier than the ones typically found in restaurants. For a lighter flavor, just use more water in place of the milk. I also made some taro balls to add in inspired by a Thai dessert. I used much more tapioca than was necessary, so I've adjusted the measurements in the recipe below. I'm always surprised by how much liquid tapioca absorbs and how much it expands. How fluid your dessert soup is also depends on how much taro and taro balls you add. To get your desired consistently, just add more or less milk or water. I also didn't make it very sweet at all, so adjust to your desired sweetness and use any kind of sweetener you like. This dessert can be served warm or cold because the tapioca starch in the taro balls keeps them soft. For chewier taro balls, use all glutinous rice flour. I steamed the taro so that I could control the water content and doneness of it for the taro balls, but you could also just boil the taro if you like. Use a large taro or a portion of one with the purple lines running through it for the best flavor.

Taro Coconut Milk Tapioca with Taro Balls
Makes about 20 servings

About 4-5 cups peeled and diced taro
1/3 cup mini tapioca pearls
2 14-oz cans of coconut milk
2 cups milk
11/2 cups water, plus more for steaming and boiling
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

Steam the diced taro over a medium high heat for about 15 minutes until very tender. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring a heavy duty saucepan filled at least 2/3 full with water to a boil over medium heat, add in the tapioca stirring immediately and then occasionally afterwards. Let the tapioca simmer for about 5 minutes until almost translucent, then turn the heat off and let sit for another 5 minutes covered. Drain the tapioca and run under cold water until cooled. Set aside.

Taro Balls:
1 1/2 cups of taro, mashed
3/4 cup glutinous rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Large pinch of salt

To make the taro balls, mash 2 - 2 1/2 cups of the cooked taro to end up with 1 1/2  cups of mashed taro. Add a pinch of salt, the granulated sugar, tapioca starch, and glutinous rice flour to the mashed taro. Mix with your hands to incorporate everything as best as you can. Add in about 1/4 cup of the coconut milk, reserving the rest for later. Form the taro mixture into a dough with your hands adding a few tablespoons of water as necessary to bring everything together. Roll the dough into small balls, about 1/2-3/4 inches in diameter. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add in the taro balls and let them cook until they float. When they are done, drain them and set aside.

To bring everything together for the dessert soup, heat the remaining coconut milk, milk, water, and sweetened condensed milk in a large pot over medium-low heat. Once everything is heated through and mixed thoroughly, add in the remaining cooked taro, mashing some of it if you like. Add in the tapioca and the cooked taro balls and stir to combine. Serve warm or cold. Taro Tapioca will last for a few days when stored in the fridge although the taro balls will start to soften if left for too long.

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