Coconut is an ingredient strongly associated with Hawaii and here it is combined with tapioca for one of my favorite recipes, tapioca pudding. Using the slow cooker to make this delicious treat (or tasty dessert) saves time because the tapioca pearls are not presoaked. However, while this recipe is simple, it requires more attention than first seems necessary. For example, overcooking occurs in a matter of minutes, so as the pudding thickens, it is necessary to check it often. On the other hand, my last batch seemed thick at only 1 ½ hours in the slow cooker, so I turned it off. When I returned in two hours, the pudding was watery. I cooked it for another hour in the slow cooker, and it was perfect. A caveat: Every slow cooker is different.
A little background information: The coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm family (Arecacae). The fruit is botanically a “drupe” (stonefruit) not a nut and has many uses. The palm produces both the female and male flowers on the same group or cluster of flowers (monoecious). The earliest description of the coconut palm is about 545AD. All of this information and more is found at Wikipedia.
Tapioca which comes from cassava (Manihor esculenta) is a carbohydrate and thus a poor source of protein. Unprocessed cassava has antinutritional and toxic factors, particularly cyanogenic glucosides which on hydrolysis release hydrocyanic acid. Thus, cassava must be properly prepared in order to be safely consumed. Tapioca is the starch of the cassava and safe to use, often as a thickening agent. It is also gluten-free.
Put into a slow cooker:
½ C small dry pearl tapioca (do not presoak)
2/3 C sugar (less can be used)
4 C liquid (1 Can coconut milk and water to 4 C.)
1 Tsp vanilla (added towards end of cooking, or as pudding cools)
Stir the above ingredients (except for vanilla), then cover and cook on low in slow cooker. Stir after 1 hour. At 2 hours the mixture will begin to thicken, so I stir it and then stir it again every fifteen minutes. In my cooker the tapioca is thickened at 2 ½ hours, and I turn it off. Experiment with the time and the consistency of the pudding in your slow cooker. I like the pearls to be whole but not hard in the middle. If it cooks too long, the consistency becomes too thick and gelatinous. There is a perfect consistency, and once you find it, you will never go back to soaking the tapioca and cooking it on the stove top.