Truth be told, I was completely shocked at the popularity of and critical acclaim for this dessert. Before Spice Market opened, Thai Jewels kept getting bumped from the menu because the consensus among the chefs was that it was too “weird.” But Jean-Georges Vongerichten liked it, so it got the green light. Good thing, too. New Yorkers can’t seem to get enough of this slushy delight.
The inspiration for this dessert is the endless variations on shaved-ice snacks enjoyed in street markets throughout Asia. At its core, the dish is just a mess of tapioca dumplings, crushed young coconut juice, and chilled coconut sauce. I found that fragrant jasmine flowers, in the form of Mali syrup, pair perfectly with earthy and aromatic vanilla beans. Adding vibrant tropical fruits turns this dessert into a veritable greenhouse of goodness.
Chef’s Tip: If you can’t find red sala syrup, you can substitute grenadine.
2/3 cup (112 grams, 4 ounces) palm sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon mali syrup
9 ounces (252 grams) fresh waterchesnuts, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup (113 grams, 4 ounces) red sala syrup, preferably Hale Blue Boy brand
1/2 teaspoons green pandan paste, preferably Koepoe-Koepoe brand
3 cups (354 grams, 12 2/3 ounces) tapioca flour
1 cup (212 grams, 7 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups (875 grams, 31 ounces) coconut milk
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
1 cup (224 grams, 8 ounces) whole milk
2 2/3 cups (597 grams, 21 1 /3ounces) frozen coconut juice, thawed, coconut pieces removed and sliced, and juice refrozen
1 cup quartered palm seeds, rinsed and quartered
1 cup thinly sliced jackfruit
1 cup diced red papaya
1. To make the tapioca dumplings: put the palm sugar, vanilla seeds and pod, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt in a medium saucepan with 1 cup water. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is melted, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the mali syrup, cool to room temperature, and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, divide the waterchesnuts between 2 mixing bowls. Add the red sala syrup to one bowl and the green pandan paste to the other and mix well to coat and color the waterchesnuts. Let sit for at least 10 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the waterchestnuts, reserving the soaking liquid in two large bowls and keeping the red and green waterchestnuts separate. Add 1/3 cup of the reserved palm sugar syrup to each of the two soaking liquid bowls.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the remaining salt. Meanwhile, toss the red waterchesnuts with half the tapioca starch in a strainer. Shake vigorously to coat well, but also to remove any excess starch, which can cause clumping. Add the red waterchesnuts and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until they float to the surface, 5 minutes. Drain, transfer to a large bowl of ice and water, and cool completely. Drain again and transfer to the reserved red syrup. Repeat with the green waterchesnuts, putting them in the green syrup after cooling.
4. To make the coconut sauce: put the sugar, salt, coconut milk, and vanilla seeds and pod in a medium saucepan. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook until the sugar melts. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk and the remaining palm sugar syrup. Transfer to a container with a tight lid, cover, and refrigerate until completely chilled.
5. To assemble: transfer the coconut juice to a sturdy, large plastic bag and pound the frozen juice with a heavy skillet until it becomes finely crushed ice. Drain the waterchestnuts and toss with the coconut meat, palm seeds, jackfruit, and red papaya. Divide the coconut ice between your serving bowls and top with the red and green jewels and mixed fruit. Shake the coconut sauce until foamy, divide among the serving bowls, and serve immediately.
Recipe taken from
The Sweet Spot: Asian-inspired desserts (William Morrow, 2007)
By Pichet Ong