Mother’s day is celebrated pretty much all over the world. In England it is called Mothering Sunday and held in March, in Thailand its held on the queen’s birthday and celebrated in August and in the US and Canada, since a presidental proclomation in 1914 it’s been celebrated on the second Sunday in May with a vast majority of the world following suit. But no matter when you celebrate it, a day to honour your mother, in my book, must involve food. And not run-of-the-mill everyday food but something special to delight the lady to whom we owe respect and devotion. Anything prepared for Mother’s Day should be an intrical part of the celebration, something that bringings family together and gets people talking.
I love to cook recipes that open up conversations. This recipe for Coconut Milk, Water Chestnut and Sago Soup is an opportunity to talk about flavors that I have enjoyed on my culinary travels. The flavors harken back to fruit soups in Hong Kong, Bubble Tea in Taiwan and the sensational shaved ice treat Nam Kang Sai so famous on the streets of Thailand. Like these sweet cold treats this soup also features sago pearls. And that ingredient is good for a lot of conversation and confusion. Some people get tapioca and sago confused; they are after all similar, but not the same!
Sago is an edible starch that’s made from the sago palm tree’s stem starch. It’s a staple food in many tropic countries. Tapioca pearls, on the other hand are made with the starch from the cassava root, and yes, its tapioca pearls that are the ‘boba’ in the famous bubble tea. After cooking, either type of pearl swells to almost twice it’s original size and becomes translucent. Now, just think how this culinary knowledge will impress your mom!
Sago is not always easy to find in North American markets so check Asian grocery stores. But one way or the other to determine if you’re buying sago or tapioca pearls, check the ingredients list on the packaging. Sago pearls are most often white (having no artificial colouring) and found in two sizes; small and large. The large offer an amazing texture but they take longer to cook so for this recipe the small version is suggested. That texture is what both sago and tapioca pearls are all about. They offer a distinct chew or bite and a sensational ‘mouth feel’. But for all the discussion about these balls of chewy fun, they have little or no taste. They’re used to enhance the culinary experience through texture with flavors, in this recipe, coming from coconut milk and fresh fruit. Use this recipe as a point of departure and include Mom’s favorite fruits to make this a memorable Mother’s Day dessert, custom made for a queen.
Two additional notes: if you cannot find sago you can use tapioca pearls, but again use the small version and I suggest looking for pearls with no artificial colouring. Follow the same cooking directions as for the sago pearls.
The second note is perhaps more important; if you’ve never cooked sago pearls (or tapioca pearls) before I suggest a trial run before cooking for mom and your family. After all Mother’s Day is no time to mess up!
For Sago Pearls:
1 cup sago pearls (160g)
6 cups water (1.5 liters)
12 water chestnuts (removed from liquid and sliced)
2 cup of coconut milk, either full or low fat, your choice (16 oz or 474 ml)
2 cups water or milk (your choice) (16 oz or 474 ml)
6 Tbsp sugar (70g) Note: Start with 3 tbsp then add more sugar to taste
Mom’s favorite fruit in bite-sized pieces. Particularly good are mangos, cantaloupes, and/or
Start by preparing the soup mixture as it requires chilling.
Add coconut milk and 3 Tbsp of the sugar along with the water or milk (I prefer using milk as it enhances the flavor but water works well if you prefer) bring to a simmer to dissolve the sugar. Taste and determine if you require the additional sugar. If adding more sugar be sure to keep mixture on the heat stirring after each addition to dissolve sugar. When you’re happy with the level of sweet remove from heat, allow to cool, then refrigerate.
While the soup is chilling, bring 6 cups of water to a full rolling boil. Add 1 cup of sago pearls, stir to prevent the pearls from sticking together and bring back to a full rolling boil for about 15 – 30 seconds before reducing heat to a simmer.
Cook on simmer, stirring often, until the pearls become to be translucent. The pearls often do not cook all at the same time. Some may still have an opaque center when most are fully translucent. Stir to evenly distribute the heat. This process can take up to 20 minutes or more.
Remove the pot from the heat and cover, let it stand for another 15 to 20 minutes then check to determine if pearls are completely transparent. In most cases. If not, continue cooking at high heat for several minutes. This is not an exact science, but do not walk away from the pot and over cook or the pearls will break down and loose their texture.
Take the pan off the heat when most of the pearls are translucent. Place sago in a strainer and rinse with cold running water. Add the sago to the coconut milk mixture and return to the fridge until ready to serve.
Before serving garnish with sliced water chestnuts and your fruit of choice.
Tips and Trouble Shooting:
Sago and tapioca pearls do not hold well once cooked; they should be mixed into the soup as soon as you have cooled them and consumed no later than the next day.
You will find that some recipes suggest that sago or tapioca pearls be soaked in cold water before boiling. For the ‘large pearl’ sago this is one of the accepted cooking methods but for small pearl sago and tapioca this is counterproductive as the starch will dissolve in cold water and the pearls lose their shape.
Make sure the pearls cook in plenty of water. More won’t hurt but less water is not recommended so, if you see your pot getting low on water its better to add more (hot) water to prevent sticking.
Feel free to use any type of coconut milk you like however, fresh coconut cream, is not the best for this recipe. It has not been emulsified and the fats may tend to solidify when you chill the soup. If you use a high fat milk and see the soup mixture starting to solidify then mix well before adding sago and other ingredients.