July 27, 2011

Taro tapioca dessert

I'm taking dessert on a different tangent today.  If you're familiar with the Chinese food culture, you'll know about the many varieties of sweet  dessert "soups".  They're called "tong shui" in Cantonese, which literally translates to "sugar water."  I love these sweet soups and there are many kinds.  I love to eat them hot during the cold months but they are usually amazing chilled and served cold...great for the summertime.  
Chilled Taro Tapioca Dessert
One of my favorites is taro tapioca dessert.  Taro is a root vegetable, with a mild flavor.  It's like potato or sweet potato and its mild flavor lends really well to this dessert where it can absorb and sort of balance the sweetness, I think.  Its starchiness also helps thicken the "soup".  And tapioca pearls are just plain fun.  Admittedly, they have very little flavor but the texture of the soft little bubbles floating around in your dessert soup is rather addicting.

I've had varieties of this dessert (Malaysian restaurants, for example, serve it with a few additional ingredients and it's very common to add some cubed sweet potatoes/yams as well) but this recipe comes from my sister, who has made this for us for years now.  Whenever I'm visiting her, I dropped hints about her very delicious "sugar water" that I love so much and I am often rewarded with a sweet surprise.  Not to mention, I usually get some extra to take home and store in the fridge. 

Somewhere along the lines, my sister learned how to make this dessert and unlike me, who generally needs and prefers to work from a written recipe, she has always made this from her head so there are no actual proportions to follow.  It's the kind of recipe you have to feel your way through and get to know.

I wanted to learn to make this because I love it and my husband does too.  And I think my husband would enjoy a little change from all the cakes and cookies I put in front of him!  This was my second attempt at making this dessert and I thought I'd try my best to pin down some semblance of a recipe this time.  That way, I can refer back to it here when I want to make it again and hopefully, it will make things easier.  I had many questions and phone calls back-and-forth with my sister and this time, my dessert came out a lot closer to how it should be!  The first time I made it, I put way too much water in it and it was just too watery.  I still prefer to eat this at my sister's house though.  Somehow it tastes sweeter when someone else makes it for you.  * hint, hint *

Here are the steps for making this sweet taro tapioca dessert "soup".
These are the somewhat exotic ingredients you will need.  It's not very many ingredients actually and you can find them all in an Asian grocery shop.  You need: taro, tapioca pearls, rock sugar (or labeled "rock candy), coconut milk and water. 
Cooking the tapioca:

First, start by cooking the tapioca.  Take a cup of tapioca pearls and place it into 4-5 quarts of cold water.  You want to use plenty of water since the pearls expands and are extremely starchy.  Cook over a medium flame, stirring often to break up any lumps.  Cook until the tapioca pearls are almost all translucent (a little bit of white in some is fine since it will go into the final soup again and cook for a few more minutes in the end), about 10 minutes after it comes to a light boil.  Rinse and drain the tapioca thoroughly under cold water using a fine mesh sieve and set aside.
Cooking the taro:

Peel the taro and dice into about 1-inch cubes.  I'm using almost 1 1/2 lbs. of taro, which makes about 4 cups diced.  Place taro into 5 cups of water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. 
Ignore the pot in the background.  I ended up using a larger pot (and you place the taro in with the cold water to cook it).
Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the taro is just softened.  Some pieces are beginning to fall apart.  This is the tricky part because the cooking time depends on the texture of the particular taro you are using (it could be rather hard in texture or very soft and fluffy so it cooks quickly) so keep a close eye on it.  The starch from the taro will help thickened the "soup" and give it flavor.  Don't over-cook the taro or a lot of it will "melt" into the soup and you're left with very few whole pieces.  It might even be a good idea to scoop some taro pieces up and set aside to add at the very end.  If it seems like you have way too much water after the taro has cooked at this point, remove some of the water on top (not very scientific, I know).

Putting it all together:

To the taro "soup", add rock sugar - this is cane sugar.  Since the sugar comes in a bag with various size pieces inside, you basically need to start with 2-3 medium size pieces and sweeten it to taste as you go.  Use a mallet or something heavy like a rolling pin to break the sugar into smaller pieces if you need to. 

Don't over-sweeten the taro mixture too much since we'll now add a can of coconut milk.  I am not a fan of coconut but I love coconut milk, which smells and taste just divine.  Stir in the coconut milk and add the tapioca.  Stir and heat this mixture for a few minutes and we're done. 
You can serve this hot or reserve it and chill it in the refrigerator overnight.  It is excellent ice-cold!  If your taro tapioca dessert seems on the watery side like mine did, it will set and thicken quite a bit in the refrigerator.  Stir it around before serving because the tapioca and starchiness tends to sit at the bottom.

The recipe:

Taro Tapioca Dessert
The way my sister taught me

- Yields approximately 2 quarts -

1 1/2 pounds of taro, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 cup tapioca pearls
Rock sugar (or rock candy; it is cane sugar)
1 can coconut milk

Add tapioca pearls to a large pot filled with 4-5 quarts of cold water.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until pearls are almost all translucent, about 10-15 minutes.  Rinse and drain thoroughly under cold water using a fine mesh sieve.  Set aside.

Place diced taro into a pot of water with 5 cups of cold water.  Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil and cook the taro until it is just softened.  This takes about 10-15 minutes but watch closely since it depends on the texture of the particular taro.

Add pieces of rock sugar and sweeten to taste.  Add coconut milk and the cooked tapioca.  Heat for a few minutes, stirring the mixture around.

The taro tapioca dessert can be eaten hot.  It is delicious chilled in the refrigerator overnight and served ice-cold (it will thicken some more in the refrigerator).  Stir the soup before serving.

Variation:  You can also add a medium-size sweet potato to the mix.  Dice it the same way as the taro and cook them together.  This will add color as well as another dimension of sweetness.


  1. Yeah!!!! U did it!!!! yum...yum...yum.....

  2. Thanks!!! This is exactly what I am looking for. I am still not getting the right "firmness" of the cooked taro though. They are either too soft or too hard. Any suggestions?

  3. Glad you found this useful, Benjamin! I know what you mean about the taro's "firmness" but it really all depends on the texture of the particular taro itself. Sometimes it will be more "fluffy" and other times, it's firm and hard. Best bet is to cook it gently starting in the cold water and as long as it's thoroughly cooked, it'll taste great. I don't think it's possible to make the hard taro pieces soft and fluffy. Enjoy!

  4. The Tapoica starch is really paramount for the preparation of sweet dishes and bevarages. It is used for the preparation of snacks and kurii aloo.

    Vietnam Tapioca Starch Supplier, Tapioca Starch Manufacturers



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