Tapioca pudding is a starch-thickened dessert. In this case, the starch used is (wait for it ... ) tapioca, made from cassava root and produced as powdered starch or hard bubble-like grains (or "lumps" as I used to call it in my youth). Tapioca in the latter form doesn't totally dissolve, instead becoming translucent, suspended pearls dispersed throughout the pudding. There are different sizes of tapioca pearls available, and even an instant style. The largest pearl size is great in bubble tea, but I prefer small pearl for pudding.
Tapioca pudding is a creamy rich-tasting dessert, even without the eggs you had planned to use but when you finally got around to making the pudding they were way past the "use by" date so you decided to go vegan instead of just parve.
The origin of this recipe comes courtesy of the Improv Challenge, a link-up party where participants create a recipe from the same two assigned ingredients. This month's ingredients are cardamom and orange. This seemed quite doable for even me. Ideas immediately started rolling around in my head for a good week until my eyes uncrossed, finally focusing on a box of tapioca. I said to myself, "Why not make tapioca pudding?" And I answered, "Only if you add the rest of the dried cranberries package sitting next to the tapioca box." True story ... I talk to myself quite frequently.
Although you have to allow a couple of hours, start to finish, to make the pudding, actual hands-on time is quite minimal. The most difficult part I had was naming the recipe, and that didn't even take long. Just look at it. Studded with colorful fruit jewels and tapioca pearls, it pretty much named itself.
Because I was serving this dessert as part of a meat meal, I used rice milk. For a yummy dairy version, use whole or reduced fat milk.
I had originally planned to toss in every sweet and/or exotic chai-type spice in the rack to give the normally bland tapioca more flair ... but without the buttons. But which chai recipe to use? That's like saying which recipe for chicken soup is the best ... besides mine? Then it occurred to me that I could skip several ingredients with a chai tea bag. I prefer Stash Chai Spice Black Tea. And (disclaimer alert) no, I am not being paid or otherwise compensated for that plug. I just like it that much.
Because there are no eggs in this recipe, the pudding isn't as stiff as regular tapioca. In fact, when you finish cooking it, it will seem way too thin to ever firm up. But chin up ... it will thicken up as it cools. If you can wait that long.
Jewels and Pearls Chai Taioca Pudding
Yield: 8 servings
1 cup water
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca (NOT instant)
2 cups rice milk, divided
2 Tbl. tapioca starch
1 chai spice tea bag
1 (13.5 oz.) can coconut milk (light preferred)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 (8-11 oz.) can mandarin orange segments, drained
Combine tapioca pearls with 1 cup water in a 1-quart-sized mixing bowl. In a small bowl, pour in 1 cup of the rice milk and drop in the chai tea bag. In another small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup of the rice milk and the tapioca starch until smooth. Set everything aside for 1 hour.
After the pearls have soaked for 1 hour, drain (if necessary), then add pearls to a 2 or 3-quart saucepan. Remove and discard chai tea bag, then add chai-rice milk mixture to soaked tapioca pearls, along with sugar, coconut milk, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and remaining rice milk.
Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture comes to a complete boil (pay attention to avoid boil-over, especially if using a 2-quart saucepan). Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes (or according to package directions), stirring occasionally. Slowly stir in tapioca starch mixture. Continue to simmer for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in vanilla (the pudding will have barely thickened).
Let cool for 30 minutes, uncovered, then gently stir in dried cranberries and orange segments. Divide pudding among 8 dessert bowls. Place in fridge, for 1 hour for a loose consistency, or let it chill completely for at least 4 hours to overnight, covered, for pudding that is firmer but still jiggly.
Either way, it will be delicious!