Thai Tapioca Dessert w/ Pineapple and Black Sesame Brittle

I was making cherry jello the other day. Not because I’m 85 or work in a school cafeteria (“caf” in Brit-speak, fyi), but the only other legitimate reason for making jello: kids. Even though jello is a “just add water” “food” and a side panel list of bogus ingredients longer than Shaq’s wingspan, I didn’t feel guilty. He eats pretty well, and a cup of processed hell can only do some good.

So when it was set, we pulled out the ruby-red stuff from the fridge and, with two spoons-one large, one small-had at it. Confusing the hell out of a four-year-old can be fun, and so, spoon in hand, I became a jello sommelier.

The taste was “fruity yet fake”; “summery with a hint of paint thinner”; “lush yet leathery”. But with jello flavor is secondary; it’s all about texture. Kids love the stuff because they have weird palates and like all kinds of odd textures, one of which happens to be slippery, amorphous and, well, “jello-like”.

Tapioca pudding is another “caf” and nursing home staple. It’s mushy and sweet, but tapioca departs from jello in its richness. Whereas jello is coagulated liquid, tapioca pudding is essentially a custard made usually with eggs and milk. As such, it’s quite delicious and, to be fair, a food for all ages.

However, Vietnamese tapioca is a celebration of tapioca itself, much like jello is a fiesta of gelatin. As with jello (whipped cream), the rich topping (coconut cream) is optional. Ungarnished, it’s mildly sweet, warm, and very gelatinous. In other words, a whimsical little bowl. Which is an adult way of saying it’s good stuff fit for any kid with a spoon.

(NOTE: Feels like I’m repeating myself these days, but it’s inevitable when writing about Thai/Viet food. Go online for this tapioca, the other stuff won’t work, I’m pretty sure. Again, we use Bankgokcentergrocery.com)

Vietnamese Tapioca Pudding w/ Pineapple, Frozen Banana, and Black Sesame Brittle

Serves 6

3 ½ cups water
1 cup Asian tapioca pearls (see NOTE)
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
2 cups pineapple diced ¼ inch
½ cup coconut cream on the side
1 banana, frozen, chopped about ¼ inch pieces
Black Sesame Brittle

  1. Boil the water in a medium pot, stir in the salt and tapioca, lower the heat slightly and cook 15-20 minutes until cooked and soft.
  2. Stir in the sugar until dissolved.
  3. Divide among the bowls and serve warm with the pineapple, frozen banana, and coconut cream on the side or spooned on top.

Black Sesame Brittle
½ cup sugar
¼ cup water
¼ cup black sesame seeds

1. Have ready a tray with a silpat or parchment sprayed with nonstick spray. Combine sugar and water in a small pan over medium high heat and boil, stirring a bit until the sugar to color lightly then stir in the seeds and pour onto the prepared tray in as thin a pool as possible. Let cool and break into small shards.

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