I admire the resilience of the coconut—the tough outer shell, the softer interior. It may not be a traditionally beautiful fruit, as it hides itself between layers of thick husk, but the brilliant white meat is worth the trouble. Coconut used to be a passing fancy for me, an afterthought more than a headlining ingredient. I would toss a few flakes in granola or a quick banana bread, but I never gave it much attention, or appreciated it for what it was.
All of this changed when I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant, and I could not be more grateful for the coconut and its countless uses.
When I was in Hawaii a couple years ago, I insisted on pulling the rental car to the side of the road to stop at a small fruit stand. One coconut, please, I requested.
Young or old?
There's a difference?
Since it was a quiet afternoon, the stand owner took some time to give me a little lesson in coconuts. After chopping through two with a hatchet, he allowed me to sip the water from each. Young coconut water was fizzy and refreshing. Old coconut water had a thick musky scent and flavor—not bad, but not terribly pleasant either. Then, it was time to taste the meat. For the young coconut, he handed me a plastic spoon. The young coconut flesh was so tender, so soft, it had the consistency of custard. The old coconut had the hard white flesh I was already familiar with. When the lesson was through, he packaged them up and sent me on my way.
This coconut tapioca pudding combines coconut in three different forms. Rich coconut milk forms the base of the pudding. Whipped coconut cream, dolloped on top, provides a creamy thickness that is wonderful to eat between bites or to stir straight into the pudding. Lastly, a few flakes of toasted coconut are sprinkled on top, for flavor and for a pop of color.
A trifecta of coconut, in pudding form.
Coconut Tapioca Pudding is perfect for the unpredictable weather of spring. The pudding can be served warm or cold to suit the scene outside the window. Coconut is the clear star of the dish, adding flavor in texture in three separate forms. This is a simple dish best served for afternoon pick-me-ups or lazy evening treats.
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Coconut Tapioca Pudding
Yields about 6 servings
1/2 cup (88 grams) small tapioca pearls
14 ounces (414 ml) coconut milk, full-fat or light
1 cup (237 ml) milk of choice
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup (83 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
Coconut Whipped Cream
In a large saucepan, whisk together the tapioca pearls, coconut milk, and milk of choice. Allow to soak for 30 minutes.
Whisk in the egg yolk, granulated sugar, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and continue to simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pudding thickens and the tapioca pearls become translucent.
Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla bean paste. Refrigerate for several hours until cool. The pudding will thicken significantly once cooled.
To serve, pour into pudding cups and top with coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut.