Tapioca, purple sweet potatoes, and coconut milk come together in this vibrant dessert. Like a cross between pudding and sweet soup, this tapioca is wonderful both hot and cold. Don’t forget the salty peanut topping ^_^
Purple Sweet Potato Tapioca
Tapioca, purple sweet potatoes, and coconut milk! That is all you need.
I’m not sure how tapioca got to be such a big “Hawaii thing,” but it is very popular here.
From the many types of tapioca chè at the Vietnamese-owned shops (like the desserts from Thang’s), to big bowls of tapioca desserts at potluck parties, and the dozens of tapioca recipes recorded in local cookbooks that get passed around from this auntie to that cousin, there is no shortage of tapioca sweets in Hawaii! That is a lucky thing ^_^
The kind of tapioca my mom makes is a combo of the local Hawaii version and the Vietnamese tapioca chè she grew up eating. It’s simple to make and open to endless adaptations. The version in today’s post is Purple Sweet Potato Tapioca. (Mom also makes an apple-banana one called Banana Tapioca and a mango one called Mango Tapioca.)
We eat this tapioca both hot and cold. We eat it hot, spooned into small bowls from the big pot, right after we finish cooking the tapioca. Leftovers go in the fridge, and then we eat it cold the next day for snack. I love tapioca!
Note: this recipe is like a cross between pudding and sweet soup. We don’t call it “tapioca pudding” or “tapioca soup”…it’s just “tapioca.”
Hawaiian Purple Sweet Potato
The vibrant purple color of the sweet potato is so nice, yeah? ^_^
I don’t often see purple sweet potatoes on the mainland (they’re always orange!), but they are everywhere in Hawaii.
How did we even get purple sweet potatoes in Hawaii?
Purple sweet potatoes were first cultivated in Okinawa. They were eventually brought to Hawaii by the Okinawans, along with many other neat Okinawan dishes that have become part of our local Hawaii culture. This includes dishes like Goya Champuru (Okinawan Bitter Melon Stir Fry), Rafute (Okinawan shoyu pork), and of course…Andagi (Okinawan doughnuts) which we always get from Teruya’s Andagi)!
Today these purple sweet potatoes go by two names:
- Hawaiian purple sweet potato
- Okinawan sweet potato
How to Cook Tapioca
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For this recipe, make sure you use small pearl tapioca. Do not get quick cooking tapioca, or tapioca powder. You want the tiny pearl shaped tapioca.
Cooking tapioca is easy…but it is also easy to mess up.
How to cook small tapioca pearls:
You want to cook the tapioca in a big pot of boiling water. I use about 6-8 cups of water for every 1 cup of tapioca pearls. Bring the water to a boil first. Then use one hand to pour in the small tapioca pearls while using the other hand to stir the water with a wooden spoon. You want to pour the tapioca in while the water is swirling because it helps keep the tapioca pearls from clumping together.
After cooking it on a simmer (with the pot lid on) for 10 minutes, the tapioca should be about ready. You can tell the tapioca is ready when:
- The tapioca pearls look mostly translucent.
- There is a tiny white dot in the middle of each tapioca pearl.
Be careful not to overcook the tapioca…it will melt into mush.
After cooking, drain the tapioca under running cold water. This is a key step for multiple reasons:
- Helps prevent the tapioca pearls from sticking to each other.
- Removes excess starch.
- Stops the cooking process (to prevent overcooked tapioca).
And that’s how you cook tapioca.
Salty Peanut Topping
The salty peanut topping is optional (but it’s a definite must-have in our home). All you have to do is combine:
- Roasted peanuts
Grind it in the food processor and you are done! Note: don’t grind it up into a fine powder, leave some larger peanut chunks in there for texture contrast.
We often make a big potion of this salty peanut topping because we eat a lot of tapioca-based dessert and sprinkle the salty peanut topping on all these desserts.
This recipe only calls for three core ingredients: purple sweet potato, tapioca pearls, and coconut milk.
It’s sweetened with sugar and a bit of salt. The salty peanut topping is optional (though a definite must-have in our home).
These are the ingredients:
- Purple sweet potato
- Small pearl tapioca (make sure you don’t get quick cooking tapioca)
- Coconut milk
- Salt (for both the tapioca and the salty peanut topping)
- Roasted peanuts
This is the process (full printable recipe is at bottom of this post):
Think of this recipe (the complete printable version is at the bottom of this post) as having four distinct parts:
Part 1. Prepare the purple sweet potato: peel and cut into half-inch pieces. Boil till cooked. Drain and set aside.
Part 2. Prepare the tapioca: refer to the “How to Cook Tapioca” section above for details on tapioca preparation.
Part 3. Combine the purple sweet potato and tapioca: once you have them both cooked, combine the purple sweet potato and tapioca in a large pot with water. Sweeten with sugar. Add a bit of salt. Then add in the coconut milk. Stir to combine, and then it is ready to eat!
Part 4. Make the salty peanut topping.
To serve: spoon the hot tapioca into small bowls. Top with the salty peanuts, and eat with a spoon ^_^
This is noted in the instructions below, but it is important to not let the coconut milk boil (because it might break). This is why you add the coconut milk in at the last step. Once you add in the coconut milk, turn the heat to medium, and stir to let it mix with everything.
You could technically omit the purple sweet potatoes from this recipe entirely. The result would be a plain (but still delicious!) tapioca dessert. Feel free to also top it with anything from fresh to canned fruit.
You can easily increase or decrease the amount of sugar used in this recipe. Start with less and you can add more sugar as needed.
Feel free to add more water for a thinner, more soup-like dessert. Use less water for a thicker, more pudding-like dessert.
Purple Sweet Potato Tapioca Recipe
See below and enjoy ^_^
- First prepare the Okinawan purple sweet potato. Peel and cut the potato in half-inch cubes. Put the potatoes in a pot and add just enough water to cover the potatoes. Boil the potatoes until they are cooked (about 5 minutes).
- Then prepare the tapioca. Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a big pot. Add in the tapioca to the boiling water (use one hand to pour in the tapioca and the other hand to swirl the water around with a spoon - this will help keep the tapioca from clumping together as it cooks). Put a lid on the pot and turn the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes. You can tell it is done when the tapioca pearls are mostly translucent and you can just see a tiny white dot in the center of each pearl. Don’t overcook, or the tapioca will completely melt.
- Strain the tapioca under cold running water. This will help stop the cooking and remove excess starch (which makes them stick together). Set aside and let drain.
- Rinse out the big pot, then add 2 cups of water, the drained tapioca, and cooked sweet potatoes. Bring it to a gentle boil. Add the sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Turn the heat down to medium. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Then add the coconut milk (don't let the coconut milk to boil). Stir to gently mix. Turn off the stove.
- Prepare the salted peanut topping: grind ¼ cup peanuts and ½ teaspoon salt in a food processor. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.
- Spoon the finished tapioca into dessert bowls, sprinkle the peanut-salt mixture on top, and eat! Enjoy ^_^