Experience The Magic Of Tapioca in Brazil!

WHAT TO EAT: TAPIOCA

WHERE TO EAT IT: BRAZIL

I live for truly magical moments in the kitchen.  Mr. Wizard’s World, Abracadabra-type stuff. Like the first time I discovered that if you slice shitake mushrooms very thin, coat them with some olive oil and salt, then roast them in the oven for a few minutes, they turn into bacon.  Okay, not real bacon but something very close.  I dare you to try and come back and tell me otherwise. Or the first time I deglazed a pan and watched all the browned bits automatically clean themselves (like a swiffer had just got up in there!) and transform into something so deeply flavorful, it made me almost weep. These are what I like to refer to as magical kitchen moments.  I’m sure you all have your favorites too.  I am so excited to tell you that I just discovered another one of these magical moments. Watch out David Copperfield, here comes tapioca!!

Tapioca!  I know what you may be thinking if you are from North America. That gooey, clumpy pudding? Well, sort of.  Let me briefly explain. Tapioca comes from the cassava root (known as manioc here in Brazil).  This tuber (grows under the ground) is a very important food source in this country.  Brazilians go nuts for this stuff!  Manioc, tapioca-mention these words to a Brazilian and watch their face light up! Don’t get it confused with yucca, which could easily happen.  Read about the difference between the two here. Manioc comes in many forms in this country and even the flour can be made two different ways.  I will eventually get into other uses for this on my site but for now we are just going to focus on the flour, called tapioca in Brazil.  Here is a photo of the more ‘instant’ kind that you can buy here in Brazil, referred to as ‘massa pronto’ (massa means earth in Portuguese but here it just refers to the flour being ‘ready’-we say instant):

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So what makes this so magical?  Cassava is very starchy (in fact it’s a leading source of carbohydrates in this part of the world but it does have calcium and trace nutrients) with an almost ‘wet’ texture.  To get to the point of  tapioca pudding, they make what are known as ‘pearls’ of tapioca, also used in bubble tea, a popular drink originating in Taiwan and consumed in parts of Asia and now found in practically every city. This article here explains the different derivatives of tapioca in a very detailed way with great photos.  Here in Brazil, tapioca is consumed normally for breakfast (no, not in that pudding form!) but instead in a delicate, lovely crepe with a slight crisp texture.  Oh, it’s absolutely heavenly and you simply have to find a way to try this at home!

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Aside from the taste, here is what makes it so magical.  It’s essentially a flour and normally if you take a flour and put it into a pan what happens?  That’s right, toasted or burned flour.  No magic there.  But with this tapioca flour, when you put it onto a hot pan, serious wizardry happens!  Within a minute or two, the flour binds (with no added fat!) and turns itself into a light pastry.  Which makes it vegan, gluten-free and heavenly all at once!  It’s ab-so-freaking-lutely delicious and amazing!  You can fill it with whatever your heart desires from cheese, ham, fruits and jams with coconut oil for the vegans (or mushrooms and spinach!), or as we did here, with Nutella.  Laurent, my boyfriend, has a serious addiction and everywhere we go, we carry a jar of Nutella with us! The options are truly endless and you can come up with a myriad of flavors.

I was recently introduced to this diabolical food moment here in Brazil.  Last year, we went on an organized hike to Machu Picchu in Peru and were lucky enough to be grouped with almost all Brazilians (and a lovely couple from Spain).  One of the girls in our group is from Curitiba and so when we were passing through her beautiful city, she was kind enough to invite us to stay with her and her family.  I had told her about a similar thing I had tried in Colombia and she informed me that they eat in Brazil for breakfast all the time.  So she whipped out the frying pan and in less than 5 minutes, I had my magical kitchen moment!

You can get this tapioca flour literally everywhere in Brazil.  I am not sure about the availability of it in the states or in Europe.  If any of you reading this have experience with it, I beg you to share your information with me!  Since I am not currently based in the US, I am dying to find out how easy/difficult it is to get.  I did find it on Amazon here.  From what I have been reading, you can also get it in Latin American markets and it’s very important to use the polvilho azedo and not the polvilho doce (has a too-fine texture).  The polvilho azedo is fermented and needs a bit of water added to it before you use it.

Once you have the correct flour, it is so super easy to make!  Your breakfast will be ready in the same time it takes for you to microwave that boring oatmeal.  To make the tapioca ‘crepe’, simply put the starch in a small bowl and sprinkle about 1-2 tbsp water over it and mix slightly with your hands. Heat a small, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Use a small strainer to move the starch through directly onto the hot pan, forming a circle but ensuring the starch is spread out evenly.

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In less than a minute (pay close attention to it!), the starch will magically come together!  Gently fold it over with a spatula and cook the other side.  This is the time to add the filling-whatever you would like. Fold one side very gently over to the other, in a crepe form.  And voila, you have a pretty white crepe that looks like it was sprinkled with snow.

It’s vegan, gluten-free (depending upon your fillings) and just utterly amazing as a breakfast, snack or hell, even a dessert!!  

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If you have any questions at all, please ask me!  I am always willing to help.  And let me know if any of you have purchased this kind of flour before or if you do actually try this recipe out!  I know getting the flour seems like a bit of a pain but once you have it, these are so easy to make, you will be thankful.  It’s worth the effort to get it!  And if you are a vegan or gluten-free, it is an absolute must!

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