The Taiwanese are known for being unbearably cute. On my trip to Taipei two summers ago, it seemed that every corner I turned, I’d see something cute and cuddly that I want to squeeze and own. They have cute fashion, cute bookstores that function also as tea houses, cute Hello Kitty themed restaurants, especially cute are their desserts. 芋圆, or glutinous taro balls, can be found in every dessert shop in Taiwan. It’s slightly sweet and very chewy, made from taro and tapioca flour. It’s typically served in a sweet soup with red beans or grass jelly or tiny tapioca balls called sago.
An aside on Asian desserts. The main reason why I love them is that they are much lighter and the sweetness is more subtle than typical in-your-face heavy creamy chocolate-y desserts in the States. They also like to serve some desserts in warm soups like red bean porridge, or black sesame paste. Warm soupy desserts? Totally unheard of in the States but so right in my alley! Asian desserts also use different ingredients, such as taro. Taro is a root, similar to yam or yucca. To prepare taro, simply steam in a rice cooker and then the skin comes right off. It tastes slippery and starchy by itself, and it makes for a perfect base for dessert taro paste or cooked into a sweet congee.
So I give credit to my friend Janet for this recipe, since she made it for me as a housewarming treat and gave me the simple recipe. In addition to taro balls, you can also make sweet potato balls and purple yam balls using the same method, and they would add beautiful dashes of yellow and purple to your dessert.
Taro Rice Balls with Red Beans
- 3-4 taro
- tapioca flour, 2 cups
- Chinese red bean (available in any Asian grocery)
- coconut milk
Steam taro in rice cooker with 1/2 cup of water. Peel the skin off with a peeler, and mash the taro thoroughly.
In a separate mixing bowl, add tapioca flour. Then add 2 Tbsp of boiling water and mix the flour right afterwards. It will turn sticky and pasty. Combine taro paste into flour dough and mix with your hands (suggest putting plastic gloves on since it can get sticky). Add sugar. Add more tapioca flour and mix until the dough does not stick to your hands. This can take up to 20 minutes. (be patient =))
Roll the dough into a stick of 1 inch width, and cut 1 inch thick rounds out of the stick. They should resemble little balls. You can freeze them in a container to be used anytime later. Tip: roll the balls in tapioca flour so that they don’t stick to each other when frozen)
To make the red bean: soak dry red beans in water overnight. Boil them in a pot of water for 2 hrs until soft to taste. You can add sugar in the process if desire.
Boil the frozen taro balls for 5-7 minutes until thoroughly soft and chewy.
In a bowl, mix milk and coconut milk in a 4:1 proportion. Drain the red beans and ladle some into the bowl. Add some taro balls, and voila!