When it comes to leading healthy lifestyles these days, many people choose to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. There are folks who swear by boot camp workouts and power bars while others let it all hang out and slather on the butter. Heidi Swanson, a talented San Francisco-based author and the publisher of 101Cookbooks, takes the middle path. I have known Heidi for a number of years and am constantly energized by her smart and refreshing ideas.
Heidi’s latest book, Super Natural Every Day, hit the shelves this month. It’s a beautifully designed and photographed publication filled with inspiring recipes and ideas for living well. Heidi encourages readers to pause in their busy lives to connect with other people, nearby places, and ingredients at hand. You don’t have to travel far or stretch much to have a super and natural life every day. It’s an urban, modern, and holistic approach.
Super Natural Every Day is also multicultural in its fluid integration of culinary concepts. Tempeh, soba, and raviolis are all part of the well-curated collection of vegetarian recipes that’s organized by meals, drinks, and treats. Heidi’s tapioca pudding intrigued me as it echoed an old-fashioned American preparation but with Middle Eastern and South Asian flair.
I used soymilk instead of regular milk because of my lactose intolerance and added some cardamom pods to up the Asian ante. Heidi suggested garnishing the pudding with pistachios or sliced raspberries. I went for both nuts and fruit but opted for seared strawberries because our local Santa Cruz County farmers are harvesting terrific berries right now. The pudding keeps well in the fridge for several so that you can sneak a satisfying snack whenever you’re in the mood.
This tapioca preparation is delicate compared to Southeast Asian sweet soups, such as Vietnamese che chuoi, that contain tapioca pearls and bananas in coconut milk. They may appear to be different animals but are of the same species. Both entail simmering small (1/8 inch wide) tapioca pearls in a sweet, rich liquid. Try the recipe below out and tweak it according to your palate and the fresh ingredients around you. It’s the natural way to cook well.
Honey and Rose Water Tapioca Pudding Recipe
Small bottles of rose water is available at Middle Eastern and South Asian markets, as well as well-stocked liquor stores. If you don’t have it, use 4 or 5 slightly crushed green cardamom pods.
Serves 4 to 6
3 cups whole milk or soymilk
1/3 cup small tapioca pearls
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
Generous 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey, mild kind preferrred
2 or 3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed (optional)
Grated zest of 1 small lemon
1/2 to 1 teaspoon rose water
4 to 6 tablespoons chopped roasted pistachios
1 pint strawberries, roasted (optional)
Brown sugar (optional)
1. Pour 1 cup of the milk into a medium, heavy pot. Add the tapioca and soak for 30 to 60 minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks, salt, honey, and remaining 2 cups of milk. Add the cardamom pods, if using.
2. Over medium-low heat, slowly bring the mixture barely to a boil, stirring regularly. This takes about 15 minutes. Decrease the heat to gently simmer for 20 minutes or so. The cooking time depends on the size of the tapioca. The pearls will swell and go from opaque to nearly translucent. The custardy part will thicken dramatically as well. Continue tasting and assessing at this stage. Stir frequently during cooking to prevent scorching.
3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, then let the pudding cool a bit; it will thicken more as it cools. Stir in the rose water and wait another few minutes. Cool completely and refrigerate if not serving right away.
4. If you elect to use the strawberries, sear them before serving. Halve each one and then toss in a couple teaspoons of brown sugar. Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat, then in batches, sear the strawberries. Let them cook, cut side down, for a couple of minutes, until you can smell them start to caramelize. Then, turn them over and let them sear on their curved side for about 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining berries. The berries will release a thick red liquid as they sit.
Adapted from: Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson