Nab Vam or coconut tapioca pearl dessert is a popular dessert across Southeast Asia and it especially holds true for Hmong cuisine. There are many variations to this dessert. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing, delicious, and perfect for not only those hot summer days, but any day of the year. This is a popular choice for both the young and the elderly, as it’s frequently served at Hmong gatherings, weddings, and funerals. You will also find nab vam every year at the Hmong New Year, where you will see many food vendors selling it. This dessert makes a nice treat because of its sweet and coconut flavor, in addition to how colorful this dessert is. In this recipe, I will be teaching you guys the basics of making nab vam. I will share with you how to make the green cendols and the ruby water chestnuts in a future post.
Don’t be fooled by these mini, circular balls. They’re not frog eggs, that’s for sure. These are tapioca pearls and uncooked, they look like tiny white beads. Some come pre-colored in colors such as pink and green, but I prefer the white tapioca pearls; The colors on pre-colored ones aren’t as vibrant when cooked. You should be able to find these at your local Asian store.
Once these tapioca pearls are cooked, they become bigger, transparent, soft, and sticky. I normally do a taste test to make sure they’re fully cooked. If you try this, be careful not to burn yourself. They’ll taste plain but they’re not meant to be eaten by themselves. They’ll dance in the cold syrup, allowing them to lose their sticky texture and flow freely.
Evenly separate the cooked tapioca pearls into different bowls or containers. I used food coloring to achieve the red, green, and yellow colors. You can decide on whichever colors you would like. I recommend keeping the colors separate from each other in order to maintain color. I like keeping them in separate Ziplock bags or containers with some water to keep the tapioca pearls from sticking to each other. I recommend this method if you don’t plan to eat or serve the dessert immediately. The colors may wash out after a few hours once it’s mixed together into the syrup so I only recommend mixing everything together when it’s ready to be served.
The syrup includes caramelized sugar, coconut milk, and sweetened condensed milk. The sweetened condensed milk gives this dessert an added depth of flavor (Thanks, Bao!). 🙂 You can mix all three of these ingredients together once the caramelized sugar cools or at room temperature.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always seen nab vam traditionally served in a bowl. Nowadays, you’re likely to see these served in a cup with either a spoon or straw. This recipe could easily serve about 25 people. You could also add more things to nab vam, such as cendols, water chestnuts, jello, fruits, and more. Best served cold.
- 2 cups of granulated sugar
- 3 cups of water
- 1 can (19 ounces) of coconut milk
- 1 can (14 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk
- 1 bag (14 ounces) of white tapioca pearls
- food coloring of your choice
- To make the syrup: On medium heat, stir the sugar continuously for about 7 minutes. As the sugar caramelizes, it will start to clump together and eventually turn golden brown and form a syrup. When most of the sugar turns golden brown, carefully add in the water and turn your heat down to low. The sugar will harden but don't worry, it will dissolve after a few minutes. Remove from the stove top once sugar dissolves and set aside until it reaches room temperature. When cool, mix in the coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. Keep refrigerated.
- To make the tapioca pearls: In a medium-sized pot, boil the tapioca pearls and stir constantly for 10-15 minutes or until tapioca pearls are cooked. They should be soft, transparent, and appear bigger. You can also try a taste test to see if it's soft all the way through. Be careful not to burn yourself. Once they are cooked, drain the hot water from the pot and replace it with cold water.
- Evenly separate the cooked tapioca pearls into 3 different bowls or containers. Color with the food coloring of your choice.
- Mix the tapioca pearls and the syrup once it's ready to be served. Serve cold.
- Serves: 25