Tapioca is a starch extracted from the root of the cassava plant, a native of South America. It is mostly used as a thickening agent in foods. White pearls are the best-known form of tapioca, produced by passing the moist starch through sieves to form small or large balls, but it also comes in various colour combos. Tapioca pudding, or ''frog eye pudding'', as children call it, is a delicious, creamy vanilla concoction made from tapioca pearls, although not everyone appreciates the texture.
1. Steamed pork and tapioca balls
Boil one part tapioca pearls to seven parts water then refrigerate. Mould the mixture together to form little balls. Make a hole in each ball and fill with spicy Asian pork mince, close up the hole and steam until cooked. Serve with chilli-soy dipping sauce.
2. Grilled fish with curried tapioca
Saute a fine dice of onions, celery, carrot and eggplant with ginger, garlic and your favourite curry paste. Pour in four cups of fish stock and ⅔ cup tapioca pearls, simmer for 20 minutes, then rest for a further 10 minutes until the pearls are transparent. Serve with grilled fish and Asian greens.
3. Vanilla tapioca jellies covered in popping candy
Mix together two cups of milk, ½ cup cream, flesh of one vanilla bean, ⅓ cup sugar, one egg, ¾ cup small tapioca pearls and a pinch of salt. Soak for 20 minutes, then simmer on the stove for 20 minutes. Spread onto a lamington tray, refrigerate and cut into small squares. Use lollipop sticks or short skewers and roll in popping candy. It's a great surprise when you bite into these delights.
4. Coconut tapioca with white chocolate and fresh raspberries
Mix together two tins of coconut milk, two cups of milk, pinch of salt, ½ cup sugar, ⅔ cup small tapioca pearls, soak for 20 minutes, then simmer for 20 minutes. Refrigerate and fold through crushed white chocolate and fresh raspberries.
5. Bubble tea
Brew up Chinese black tea (or your favourite tea), adding a cup of milk when cold. Boil large tapioca pearls with water ratio of 1:6 for 30 minutes until transparent and steep in sugar syrup. Place the tapioca and tea in a cocktail shaker, then pour into a glass. Serve with a thick straw.
According to Leonie Mills, owner-chef Jack & Jill Restaurant, 247 Moorabool Street, Geelong, Victoria (03) 5229 9935.