This pudding, like many desserts native to Vietnam, is both sweet and starchy -- a perfect finishing course on a hot day.
You'll need to buy small, white tapioca pearls, not the larger, caramel-colored pearls used for bubble teas. Thanh Tran, matriarch of the Vietnamese family behind Four Sisters in the Merrifield Town Center and the Song Que deli in Falls Church, relies on the fresher tapioca pearls available online at Amazon.com and other online sites. If you use the hard, dried variety sold at Asian supermarkets such as Great Wall in Rockville and Falls Church, you'll have to monitor your cooking process. It might take longer for the pearls to become translucent.
Pandan leaves are an essential part of the dessert, imparting sweet, grassy and floral notes to the dish. You can find them in the freezer case in Asian supermarkets.
Make Ahead: The dessert can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Servings: 10 - 12
- 5 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 cups water
- 7 ripe bananas, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 pandan leaves, each tied in a knot (for easy removal; see headnote)
- 1/2 cup small white tapioca pearls (see headnote)
- 2 1/2 cups regular coconut milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, finely chopped (optional)
Combine the cornstarch and 1 cup of the water in a liquid measuring cup, stirring until thoroughly blended.
Pour the remaining 3 cups of water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the banana slices and pandan leaves. Once the liquid has returned to a boil, stir in the tapioca pearls. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pearls become translucent, which should take 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in the coconut milk; reduce the heat to medium and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so the liquid is barely bubbling. Add the sugar and the 1/2 teaspoon of salt, stirring until dissolved. Taste for sweetness; add up to 1/2 teaspoon more salt (which will bring out the sweetness).
Add about one-quarter of the cornstarch mixture; cook for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring until the banana dessert has thickened like a porridge. If it hasn't, stir in more of the cornstarch mixture to achieve the desired consistency. Remove from the heat and discard the pandan leaves. Discard any unused cornstarch mixture.
When the pudding has cooled, divide it among individual small bowls. Top each portion with chopped peanuts, if desired, and serve right away.
Adapted from Thanh Tran of Song Que deli in the Eden Center.
Tested by Tim Carman.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.