My grandmother was a true kitchen legend. I guess that’s a bit of a cliché- who in the world could ever have a grandmother that was a shit cook?! Ok, maybe there are a few of you out there that would beg to differ, which is unfortunate, but you got through it so it’s not all bad.
If I’m being honest though, my other grandma’s cooking was a notch above this gran’s, but this one made a real mean cup of masala chai, always served up with some questionable yet delicious salty cornflake snacks. This wonder drink was composed of black leaf tea infused with an array of spices including cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and aniseed, at least a whole litre of milk and a sand-bag worth of sugar. Since I was a chubby kid, I would always follow her in to the kitchen to get a head start on the food front and it was during one of those kitchen visits that she perched me on to the edge of the table (I was only eight years old, not like twenty or anything!) next to the stove and showed me each and every spice that went into the pestle and mortar before crushing them to a fine powder.
My dad continued this ritual of chai tea-making so I got the ingredients down to a tee over the years. The flavour is so intense and warming that I thought it was a shame to just keep it confined to a drink. I’ve taken it to the next level and made chai tea into a pudding, tapioca to be precise. Tapioca is made of starch extracted from cassava, which is pretty awesome, but it really didn’t work for me when I first had it. I remember tapioca pudding being served once as an experimental dessert in school smothered in fake strawberry sauce and I hated the stuff because it resembled frog spawn, only pink. I was forced to eat the entire contents on my lunch tray by a boisterous dinner lady and minutes later vomited every morsel onto the floor of the canteen hall- I’m glad it sprayed onto her shoes! I never touched the stuff again- well at least until I encountered it in China.
My experience of tapioca in this part of the world shed a whole new light onto this starchy staple. Dessert isn’t a big thing in China, especially not sickly sweet foods- actually dessert isn’t a thing at all. Meals are consumed as soon as they are cooked, whether sweet or savoury, there is no specific, set order in which food is served- as soon as it’s cooked, you eat it, even if it means eating pudding in between dumplings or fried rice. Took me a while to get used to the concept. Anyway, a deep yellow-orange dish with floating bubbles, chunks of frozen mango and a scoop of tofu panna cotta came out which I gingerly tucked into with a soup spoon and omg, I had never tasted anything like it. Sweet yet tart mango slushy jam-packed with mildly sweet bubbles of jelly perfectly complimented by a spiced soya milk gel, I was literally slurping it down like a drink.
I had to trial-and-error these miniature tapioca balls myself and see what else they worked well with. Definitely not strawberry sauce!
Makes 8 puddings
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 7 cardamom pods crushed
- 5 cloves
- 1tbsp aniseed
- 1tbsp fresh ginger roughly crushed
- 250ml water
- 700ml soya milk
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 125g uncooked tapioca
- 1 teabag of black tea
- 40g sugar
- Combine all ingredients (except the tapioca) in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Remove the teabag then add the tapioca and allow to cook on a simmer until soft and translucent.
Serve either hot or cold with extra milk and sugar if desired- I go a little overboard with both!