This banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe makes Cambodia’s chek ktis, a sweet and creamy aromatic dessert of stewed banana in coconut milk and tapioca pearls, that’s perfumed with star anise. Garnish with grated coconut, add a drizzle of coconut cream, and sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving. It’s sweet Cambodia in a bowl and it’s sublime.
If you enjoyed our mango sago pudding recipe, you’re going to love this banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe, which will make you a deliciously simple yet much loved Cambodia dessert called chek ktis – chek means banana in Cambodia’s Khmer language, and ktis, or more correctly k’tis or k’tiss, means coconut and covers coconut milk and coconut cream.
I love how Cambodians shorten names – which is something we Australians have a tendency to do – as it makes my life so much easier when it comes to naming dishes for the Cambodian cookbook and culinary history we’re (still) working on (damn you, pandemic). But, of course, chek ktis is so much more than banana in coconut milk. For me, it’s Cambodia in a bowl and it’s so good.
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Banana Coconut Tapioca Pudding Recipe with Sesame and Star Anise for Chek Ktis
If you travelled to Siem Reap prior to the pandemic and dined at one of its many outstanding Cambodian restaurants, chance are high that if you saved room for dessert, you might have tried a variation of this banana in coconut milk with tapioca or sago.
If you did a Cambodian cooking class in Siem Reap, then there’s an even greater chance that this was the Cambodian dessert you made and you probably have this banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe in the little cookbook you were given at the end of the class.
This dessert is so Cambodian that I probably should have called it a Khmer banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe rather than Cambodian, but I wanted you to find it easily when you’re searching for Southeast Asian dessert recipes or even Cambodian dessert recipes and I appreciate there’s a lot of confusion out there as to the meaning of ‘Khmer’.
While many people associate ‘Khmer’ with the brutal ‘Khmer Rouge’ or ‘Red Khmer’ regime that was responsible for the Cambodian genocide of the latter half of the 1970s, ‘Khmer’ simply refers to the largest ethnic group of Cambodia, which comprises most of the population, and the language they speak, which is Khmer.
If I was to call this a Khmer dessert, it’s to suggest that this is a dessert of the indigenous Khmer people, whereas if I called it Cambodian, it would be a dessert cooked and eaten by all Cambodians, not only Khmer, so Chams, Chinese-Cambodians, French-Cambodians, or ethnic minority groups native to provinces such as Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, and so on.
Based on my research, I believe this is a very old Khmer dessert, but that depends on whether it’s made with sago or tapioca, because the former has been used in Southeast Asia for longer than the latter, and while sago and tapioca are often used interchangeably in recipes in Southeast Asia, this dish has more often than not made with tapioca in recent decades.
You can read more about all that when our Cambodian cookbook and culinary history are eventually published. For now, let me just share a few tips to making this banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe.
Tips for Making this Cambodian Banana Coconut Tapioca Pudding Recipe for Chek Ktis
Just a few quick tips to making this banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe. While this recipe calls for tapioca pearls, you could use sago pearls if they’re easier to find, as they are here in Cambodia. While sago and tapioca come from different sources, most people couldn’t tell them apart and they’re used interchangeably by many cooks.
In one recipe I have in a little Cambodian cooking class ‘cookbook’ (more like a pamphlet), sago appears in the title of the dessert, yet tapioca is listed in the ingredients. Whatever you use, tapioca or sago, they’ll both work perfectly fine.
Just make sure to stir continuously so the pearls don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and don’t take them off the heat until all the tiny white dots have disappeared from the centre of the pearls.
Fresh grated coconut might also be tricky to find depending on where you live, unless you can get hold of some coconuts, and in that case, you could also press your own coconut cream and coconut milk. Assuming you can’t do that, I’ve listed tinned coconut milk under the ingredients. You could use canned coconut cream, but it will be incredibly rich. You could also use dried grated coconut or desiccated coconut.
Traditionally, palm sugar was used in this dessert, and I much prefer the caramel-like taste, however, these days Cambodian cooks often use white sugar and I know palm sugar can be hard to come by outside Southeast Asia, although I did spot some palm sugar from Thailand on Amazon.
Cambodian cooks typically sprinkle on white sesame seeds only, but I love the extra crunch of black sesame seeds and also the look of the black seeds, with the star anise. Now if you did make this in a Cambodian cooking class you are probably wondering what the star anise is doing in this dish.
The star anise is my addition to this classic banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe. Star anise is a very old Cambodian ingredient and it adds so much aroma and imbues this tapioca porridge with so much wonderful subtle flavour, it’s an essential ingredient for me. Try it and let us know what you think.
Cambodian Banana Coconut Tapioca Pudding Recipe
- 300 ml water
- 25 g tapioca
- 2 star anise pieces
- 50 ml coconut cream
- 2 ripe bananas sliced into 1cm thick slices
- 2 tbsp grated coconut
- 1 tbsp sugar palm sugar or white sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp white sesame seeds toasted
- ½ tsp black sesame seeds
- In a small cooking pot, boil the water then add the tapioca pearls and star anise and cook on low-medium heat, for 10 minutes until the pearls are almost completely transparent, stirring continuously so that the tapioca pearls don’t stick to the bottom and burn; add a little water intermittently if the pearls seem to be sticking.
- Add the coconut cream, banana slices, grated coconut, sugar, and salt, then continue to stir until the tapioca pearls are completely transparent and there are no white dots at the centre of any pearls. (If there are still white dots and the tapioca has thickened so much that it’s starting to stick to the bottom or sides of the pot, add a little water – or coconut cream if you like.)
- Once there are no more white dots in the pearls, taste, and if necessary add more sugar or salt to suit your palate.
- Distribute between bowls and allow to cool a little. Before serving, sprinkle sesame seeds on top – and, if you like, more grated coconut and a drizzle of coconut cream.
Please do let us know if you make this banana coconut tapioca pudding recipe for Cambodia’s chek ktis as we’d love to hear how it turns out for you.