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Enjoy mandarins in a creamy parfait

Instant tapioca provides a base for a light dessert

These mandarin tapioca parfaits have garnishes such as coconut, pomegranate arils and  almonds.

These mandarin tapioca parfaits have garnishes such as coconut, pomegranate arils and almonds. Photos by Kathy Morrison

6 mandarin oranges in a blue bowl, with a pomegranate and another mandarin alongside
Mandarins make a wonderful snack on their own.

Mandarins are my favorite citrus fruit, and the Satsumas are the best of those, I think: easy to peel, just tart enough and the right size for a snack.

This is the weekend for the Mountain Mandarin Festival, so I thought I'd come up with a recipe that featured the fruit's refreshing flavor and offers a contrast to the pumpkin-spice-cranberry-apple overload coming later in the week.

This recipe took some tweaking, since the first version I tried came out nice but plain -- good for kids but not sophisticated enough for adult palates. 

I started with a recipe from the Los Angeles Times, first choosing to reduce it from 6 servings to 4. Then I discovered that the bottle in the refrigerator that I thought was whole milk actually was heavy cream, which is too heavy on its own for a pudding. But I remembered I had a can of coconut milk, the kind with the layer of solids, so decided to use that, adding a little of the cream to get it to the needed 2 cups.

Otherwise I followed the recipe, but the end product needed some oomph, my husband (the resident taster) and I agreed.

The recipe here is what resulted when I played around with the liquid and the flavoring. The coconut milk is still a good choice for the liquid, but I prefer the version with half and half. The revision also tastes more like mandarin oranges, which after all was the goal.

Mandarin parfaits with tapioca

Serves 4

Ingredients:

White bowl interior, multi-colored whisk and yellowish tapioca
Instant tapioca is the base for the parfaits.

6 mandarin oranges, such as Satsumas, about 1 pound

2 tablespoons instant tapioca granules

2 cups half and half or whole milk or one 13-1/2-ounce can coconut milk plus milk or non-dairy milk to measure 2 cups

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

3/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons minced candied ginger, divided

Choice of accent for parfaits:

1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted, or

1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened, or

1/2 cup pomegranate arils

Parfaits in progress, with a green cutting board nearby
Layer the tapioca, then mandarins, then accent.

Instructions:

Peel 4 of the mandarins and split into sections, removing as much of pith and strings as desired. Then cut the sections in half and place in a small bowl. Cut the other 2 mandarins in half without peeling, and juice them. Pour the juice over the section halves in the bowl, and stir in half the candied ginger. Set the bowl aside.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the tapioca, whatever milk you're using, the egg, sugar, salt and the extracts. Bring the mixture to a rolling bowl, stirring frequently, then remove it from the heat.

Pour the hot tapioca into a glass or ceramic bowl. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour.

When ready to put together the parfaits, pour 2 tablespoons of the mandarin juice from the macerating oranges into the bowl of tapioca. Whisk the juice and the remaining ginger into the tapioca just until combined.

Set out 4 bowls or half-pint Mason jars that will hold the parfaits. Spoon 2 generous tablespoons of tapioca into the bottom of each of the jars. (It doesn't have to be exact.) Using a slotted spoon, place 4 or 5 mandarin section halves on top of the tapioca, then sprinkle on some of your chosen accent. (They also can be combined; the coconut and almonds go well together.)

Two parfait jars on a green placemat, with spoons and a mandarin orange nearby
Taller half-pint jars show off the layers.

Repeat twice more so that there are 3 layers of tapioca, mandarins and accent, ending with the accent.

Chill an hour before serving. If serving time is later and you're using the Mason jars, try putting lids on the jars for better storage.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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