We first experienced Vietnamese Banana Tapioca Pudding (or Chè Chuối; pronounced “chair chewy”) while dining at Duc’s Bistro in Honolulu. (You’ll be reading more about Duc and his bistro soon.) The delicate tapioca combined with banana and coconut cream created a delightfully sweet finish to a delicious and thoroughly enjoyable meal.
Mr. B and I paid careful attention to every dish we enjoyed in Hawaii, and when we returned home from our 10-day trip, we had a long list of recipes we wanted to recreate. Duc’s Banana Tapioca Pudding, topped with velvety coconut cream, was second on our list. (To answer your question – those Shrimp!)
After a little research (and some trial and error), I’ve come up with a good reproduction of the original, albeit with a few significant alterations:
- The version we enjoyed in Honolulu included Hawaiian Apple Bananas, which are difficult to find here in the PNW. This recipe calls for regular bananas, but if you have access to Apple Bananas, by all means use them instead. (Baby bananas can also be used.)
- I believe that Duc’s dessert had a thin layer of sweet rice between the tapioca and the coconut cream, but I chose to leave this out to simplify the process; however, it does add an additional, very pleasing textural element, so if you want to include the extra step, it might be worth the effort to you.
- I’ve also added a little toasted coconut, because it adds a lovely sweet crunch, and …. oh, who am I trying to fool? I just love toasted coconut!
- 3 cups water
- ⅓ cup small tapioca pearls
- 4 medium bananas
- 1 – 13.5 oz can coconut milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1-2 Tablespoons sugar
- Finely chopped peanuts (or cashews)
- Toasted coconut (See below)
- Mint leaves
- You will need 3 small bowls for this. In the end, you will have one bowl of coconut milk with a little coconut cream in it for adding directly to the pudding, one bowl of coconut cream with a little coconut milk in it for topping the finished tapioca mixture, and one empty bowl. Proceed as follows:
- Open the can of coconut milk. (DO NOT shake the can before opening.)
- Bowl #1 - Pour out the thin coconut milk/liquid from the can into this bowl.
- Bowl #2 - Scrape the coconut cream from the can into this bowl.
- Bowl #3 - Measure out ½ cup coconut milk from Bowl #1 and put it in this empty bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the coconut cream from Bowl # 2 and set aside.
- Add the remaining coconut milk from Bowl #1 to the remaining coconut cream in Bowl #2. Stir until smooth. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar and set aside. (Bowl #1 should now be empty.)
- Cut bananas into ¾-1 inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a medium pot, bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Add tapioca and reduce heat. Simmer for 12 to 14 minutes, until the tapioca nearly cooked, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Do not overcook: at this point, the tapioca should be thick, and individual pearls should be clear on the outside, and have a very small dot of white in the middle.
- Add the salt and the coconut milk mixture from Bowl #3 and to the tapioca stir to combine.
- Increase heat to medium. When the tapioca mixture begins to simmer, add the banana pieces and stir. Reduce heat and simmer for until the bananas are tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir in vanilla. Add sugar one or two teaspoons at a time, tasting between additions, until it is sweetened to your tastes.
- To toast coconut, place ½ cup sweetened flaked coconut in a small ungreased non-stick pan. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until coconut is lightly browned. Immediately remove from pan and cool on paper towels.
Note: If you want your garnishes to sit up on top of the coconut cream (instead of sinking into it), allow everything to cool a bit before you finish placing the toasted coconut, etc.