Beetroot & Tapioca Pearls Khichdi (& a Carrot Variation)
If anyone needs convincing that texture is an important part of our enjoyment of food, they only need to look at tapioca pearls. Why else would anyone use an ingredient that has nothing to say for itself in terms of flavour? Its sole job is to lend a chewy, gummy texture to foods and to a small extent, absorb flavours from other ingredients.
If you haven’t heard of tapioca pearls, could it be that you know it by another name such as Boba, Sabudana or Sago*? Even if you’ve never eaten it before, you will have most likely seen photos – it’s hard to escape the ubiquitous images of boba tea on the Internet. Yes, those, um, pearl – like things made out of, er.. tapioca (wow, I am so eloquent today!).
*Strictly speaking, sago is not exactly the same thing but something so similar that both terms are often used interchangeably.
In India, tapioca pearls are known as sabudana and used in a wide range of both savoury and sweet dishes. You will find them used in breakfast dishes such as a kind of pulao (khichdi) & pancakes (dosas), snacks such as little cakes (wada) and in puddings. They come in different sizes and types – to learn more, click here for an excellent post detailing the varieties.
Recently, I shared on my Instagram page a photo of beetroot and tapioca pearls khichdi and have lost count of the number of people who’ve asked me for the recipe. So ta-da, here it is with a bonus carrot variation to boot. Don’t you just love how pretty both versions look?
Note: Tapioca pearls can be temperamental and vary greatly from brand to brand. If you make this with any other kind than the large, nylon ones that I have used, please make sure you do your research and cook them accordingly. On proper cooking, they will go from opaque to translucent right up to the centre. They should be chewy, not mushy, hard or sticky. The ones that I have used require at least 30 minutes of pre-cooking so remember to allow extra time. While the tapioca pearls cook, I get all the other ingredients ready. Once that is done, the dish comes together pretty quickly.
Beetroot & Tapioca Pearls Khichdi
- 200 g big nylon tapioca pearls About 1¼ cup. Mine were 7 mm in diameter
- 1 tbsp neutral-flavoured oil Such as vegetable or light olive oil
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 10 fresh curry leaves
- 0 -2 green chillies Use more if you like it hottter.
- 1 medium potato
- 1 large beetroot, raw about 250 g unpeeled weight
- 1/2 cup roasted, salted peanuts
- salt & lemon juice to taste
- chopped coriander leaves for garnish
For the Carrot Variation:
- 3 large carrots
- 2 large tomatoes
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- First, cook the tapioca pearls. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then add the tapioca pearls. Bring back up to the boil and cook for 25 -30 minutes until the cores are no longer white. If at any point you find that the cooking water is getting too starchy, drain the pearls, start with fresh boiling water and continue with the cooking.
- While that's cooking, prep the rest of the ingredients. Finely chop the curry leaves, green chillies, if using and coriander. Peel and cut the potato into about 1 cm cubes. Peel and finely grate the beetroot. Coarsely crush the peanuts. If using the carrot variation, peel and grate the carrot coarsely and chop the tomatoes finely.
- When the tapioca pearls are cooked, drain well in a colander and run cold water over to remove any excess starch. Set aside.
- In a large frying pan, heat oil over medium heat, then add the cumin seeds, stir-fry for about 10 seconds, then add the curry leaves and the green chillies, if using. Add the potatoes, 1/2 a tsp of salt, cover and cook over low heat for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. The potatoes should be cooked by now. If not, cook a minute ot two longer.
- Add the finely grated beetroot, stir for a few minutes, then add the tapioca pearls. Stir fry for a few seconds, then stir in the crushed peanuts. Mix well and taste. Add a bit of salt if you feel it needs it (the peanuts are already salted, remember?) and about a tbsp (or more) of lemon juice. You can also add a tsp or two of sugar if that's your preference.
- Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve.
For the Carrot Variation:
- Omit the beetroot. After the potatoes are cooked, add the turmeric powder and the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes disintegrate well. Add a bit more oil if it looks too mushy and fry until the tomatoes look like a paste. Now add the carrots, fry for about 30 seconds, then proceed with the procedure as above by adding the tapioca pearls.