Food & Wine

Tapioca: Delicious and sumptuous appetizer

Elliott Burr/Town Crier Tapioca cutlets, above, called sabudana vada in India, mixed with mashed potatoes and spices make an ideal appetizer, especially when served with cilantro chutney.
By Gitika Baveja Tapioca, a starch named sabudana (“whole grain”) in India, is used in a variety of recipes both sweet and salty. In the U.S., its most familiar form is as a pudding, available in most grocery stores. Sabudana, or pearl sago, is derived from the cassava plant. Pearl sago’s whitish seeds resemble small, white opaque balls. They become soft and spongy when soaked in water and turn translucent when cooked, resulting in a soft and slightly chewy texture.

Sabudana comes in various sizes, but for this specific recipe, the smaller sizes work well.

Tapioca pearls are readily available in most large supermarkets (in the Asian section) and most definitely in any Asian or Indian grocery store.

Sabudana vada, or cutlets, is a specialty from the state of Maharashtra in Western India. An ideal appetizer or tea-time snack, sabudana vada is great for entertaining and can be prepared well in advance. In such cities as Mumbai, you can buy freshly prepared, hot, delicious sabudana vada from street vendors. One of the country’s most popular snacks, it is enjoyed crisp and warm with a tasty green cilantro chutney.

In this recipe, the sabudana is mixed with mashed potatoes, chopped onions and spices, then bound into a cutlet that is shallow fried. The dish is authentic and easy to prepare.

Tapioca and potato cutlets (sabudana vada)

•1 cup sabudana (tapioca pearls, small size)
•1 large potato, boiled, peeled and mashed
•1 small red or yellow onion, finely chopped
•1 small green Thai chili, finely chopped (optional)
•2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, finely chopped
•1 teaspoon garam masala powder
•1 teaspoon dry mango powder or 2 tablespoons lemon juice
•1 teaspoon coriander powder
•1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
•1 tablespoon cornstarch (to bind)
•Salt to taste
•5-6 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil for shallow frying

Soak sabudana (tapioca) in warm water overnight. It will puff up and become translucent. Each pearl should be soft to the touch. Drain water through sieve before using.

Boil potato until very tender. Mash potato with hands and transfer to large mixing bowl. Add soaked and drained sabudana, chopped onions, green chili, cilantro leaves, spices, cornstarch and salt and bind well until all ingredients stick together.

Divide dough into equal-sized small balls. Flatten between palms of your hands in shape of small cutlets.

Heat oil in frying pan and shallow-fry cutlets on low-to-medium flame until golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towel.

Serve hot with cilantro chutney or ketchup.

Note: Add 1/4 cup roasted, crushed peanuts to the mixture for variety.

Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home-Cooked Way.” For more information, visit

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