Last week while cooking my favorite root tuber, cassava, I learned that cassava flour (made from cassava starch) is gluten-free. The starch that is extracted from the cassava root is available in two forms – fine white flour or opaque tapioca pearls. When American families and friends with disparate tastes and food allergies gather around the Thanksgiving table, cassava flour and pearls can be incorporated in the meal to include those with gluten sensitivity to the table. The flour and pearls can be used to make cheese bread and dessert (tapioca pudding and falooda), offering simple substitutions to long-established menus.
Gluten is a protein found in grains that give dough its elasticity and bread its texture. Sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease prohibits foods made with many of the traditional grains, such as wheat and rye. Cassava flour is a good alternate for making bread, pancakes, or to thicken gravy. South Americans use cassava flour to make a cheese bread called Pao de Queijo and Chipa – deliciously cheesy with a pleasant chewy bite.
Cheese Bread (Brazil)
Cassava flour – 2 cups
Whole milk – 1 cup
Vegetable oil – ½ cup
Salt – ¾ tsp
Egg – 2, beaten
Parmesan cheese – 1 ½ cup
- Set the oven to 400°F.
- Add all the ingredients, except for the cheese, in a large bowl.
- Mix them together to form dough.
- Fold in the cheese to the dough mixture.
- Drop a tablespoon of the dough at a time on to a nonstick pan.
- Cook the dough balls for 15-20 minutes.
Tapioca Pudding and Falooda are two easy desserts that use tapioca pearls, the starch made from the cassava root. The pearls are available in a range of diameters (1mm to 6mm) and colors (brown, white, and black). Tapioca pearls need to be soaked in water or cooked in milk to rehydrate them. When cooked in milk, they give tapioca pudding a comforting creamy consistency. The water-soaked tapioca pearls in falooda add a chewy morsel in an otherwise rich and milky South Asian dessert.
Whole milk – 3 cups
Eggs – 2, beaten
Tapioca Pearls (white) – ½ cup
Sugar – ½ cup
Salt – ¼ tsp
Vanilla/rose/cinnamon essence – 1 tsp
- Mix the whole milk, tapioca pearls and salt in a saucepan and bring it slowly to a boil. Stir continuously so tapioca mixes and thickens as it cooks.
- When the milk starts to boil, turn the heat down. Add sugar slowly, while stirring continuously so it dissolves.
- Remove from heat and let the thickened mixture cool for a minute.
- Add the beaten egg into the mixture (watch it doesn’t curdle).
- Bring the mixture back to a simmer and let it thicken, about five minutes.
- Add the essence.
- Dessert can be eaten warm or cold. Top with berries.
Milk – 1 cup
Translucent noodles (vermicelli) – 1 oz.
Tapioca pearls (black) – 2 tbsp.
Strawberry or raspberry jelly – 1 packet
Rose syrup – 1 tbsp
Vanilla ice cream –1 small tub
- Make the jelly according to the instructions on the packet
- Soak the tapioca pearls in water for half-hour to rehydrate them.
- Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet or until soft.
- Add the drained noodles to half a cup of milk and simmer for five minutes.
- Have all the ingredients near at hand to assemble the dessert. Keep layers separate for a colorful display. In a tall glass, start with a layer of jelly, followed by the noodles and a tablespoon of milk, 1 tablespoon of tapioca pearls, and two scoops of ice cream. Finally, drizzle the rose syrup over the ice cream. Serve immediately.