Chinese restaurants don’t really do dessert as we know it in Western culture. There’s almost never a “dessert menu”, and it’s not a course that you would save room for either. In fact, dessert is commonly a surprise – your waiter might bring out a dish of fresh fruit, a platter of round yellow almond cookies, a handful of fortune cookies (though these are never seen in China), or if you’re really lucky, a dessert soup like red bean soup or taro sago in coconut milk. The taro sago is my all-time favorite Chinese restaurant dessert! I always get really excited when I am at a decently authentic Chinese place, because the odds of them serving this dessert is pretty good.
If you’ve never heard of taro sago, it is a creamy, refreshing soup-like pudding that has soft chunks of taro and clear little tapioca balls (also called sago) in a background of aromatic coconut milk. Taro lends its naturally mild, creamy flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture to the slippery, slightly chewy give of tapioca in this luscious dessert. The coconut milk is sweetened with rock sugar (a staple of Chinese cooking) and ties everything together with its delicate lightness. When served chilled, taro sago is the perfect way to end a big dinner, without being achingly sweet and rich like many Western desserts.
Well, lucky for all of us, it turns out that taro sago is actually really simple to make. It only requires 4 ingredients, and it’s easy to make a big batch for a crowd (or just to have a lot to enjoy – I love having this stuff for breakfast!) I adapted a recipe that I found on Recipezaar, by changing the ratios of the components to achieve a more soupy taro sago, and it tasted just like the kind in the restaurants, mmm. Enjoy!
Taro & Tapioca (Sago) in Coconut Milk (serves 8-12)
Recipe adapted from Recipezaar
- 1 bag (16 oz.) frozen peeled taro chunks, or 1 lb. fresh taro (find at Asian markets)
- 3/4 cup dry mini tapioca
- 2 cans (14 oz. each) of unsweetened coconut milk (not coconut cream or cream of coconut)
- 1/2 cup rock sugar or granulated sugar
- Optional: chopped up fresh or canned fruit
1. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, and add the frozen taro to boil for 5-7 minutes, until tender (20 minutes if using fresh taro). Drain and mash slightly, leaving many bite-sized chunks as desired.
2. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring water to a boil and add tapioca and boil for 5-6 minutes, then turn off heat and cover pot, allowing it to sit for another 10-15 minutes. The tapioca is ready when it is completely translucent. Strain off excess water and rinse under cold water briefly. Be sure to use a large enough pot, as the tapioca will expand quite a bit after boiling.
3. Over medium to medium-low heat, warm coconut milk with rock sugar, stirring frequently to help dissolve the sugar. Do not let coconut milk come to a boil. When the sugar has completely dissolved, taste the coconut milk for sweetness, and adjust if needed. It should be sweeter than your desired final result.
4. Add the taro and tapioca into the coconut milk and stir well to blend together. Add extra milk/coconut milk and adjust sweetness further if needed to achieve desired consistency and flavor.
5. Chill taro sago in fridge before serving, and optionally add in chopped fruit (such as jackfruit, lychees, kumquats, or mango).