Tapioca with mango

Serves 4-6
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A thing of the past is tapioca, well at least in European kitchens. Those of us who predate junk-food school dinners may remember badly made tapioca milk pudding. We shouldn't write off this interesting ingredient just because of these bad memories. How many of us know what tapioca really is and how good it can be? When turned into a dessert with Asian flavours - the way it's eaten in other parts of the world - tapioca and sago are a whole different story.

A thing of the past is tapioca, well at least in European kitchens. Those of us who predate junk-food school dinners may remember badly made tapioca milk pudding. We shouldn't write off this interesting ingredient just because of these bad memories. How many of us know what tapioca really is and how good it can be? When turned into a dessert with Asian flavours - the way it's eaten in other parts of the world - tapioca and sago are a whole different story.

To put you in the picture, tapioca is made from cassava, the starchy root used mostly in Asia and Africa. Cassava flour is treated in such a way it forms what are called flakes, seeds and pearls of tapioca. Sago, which also got a bad reputation from school puddings, is similar, but made from palm. For once my kitchen cupboard let me down and I had to go looking for tapioca and discovered that it's so out of favour it's hard to find unless you know where to look. I had no luck in West End health-food shops and supermarkets but after wasting an hour searching, it suddenly dawned upon me that the Chinese use it. Lo and behold there was loads of tapioca flour, tapioca pearls and sago on my doorstep in Chinatown. I came up with an Asian recipe using Alfonso mangoes, which I bought in the Taj stores in Brick Lane, east London. They have an unusual and irresistible fragrance, unlike any other mango. If you can't find Alfonsos just choose ripe and juicy normal mangoes. This classic combination should banish forever any lingering, old-fashioned associations.

100g tapioca
2 lime leaves
2 stems of lemongrass
2 litres milk
75g sugar
2 mangoes

Smash the bulbous end of the lemon grass with the back of a knife or rolling pin, then add to the milk with the lime leaves and sugar. Bring to the boil, add the tapioca and simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring every so often. Leave to cool but not to go completely cold.

Meanwhile peel the mangoes with a sharp knife and cut either side of the stone to remove the flesh then cut it into rough 1cm cubes. Trim any excess mango flesh you've missed from around the stone and blend with a little water in to a smooth purée. Mix the purée with the diced flesh.

Spoon the tapioca into serving dishes and spoon the mango on top.

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