Did we mention they’re cheesy and crispy?
Tapioca cheese fritters
Credit: Getty / Flavia Novais

I am always looking for the unicorn of appetizers, one of those showstopping wonders that is easy to prepare but has serious wow factor. If it can also help me out with one of the myriad dietary restrictions we must be attuned to as hosts, so much the better. So, it is no wonder that these addictive little cheese fritters have become a favorite in my rotation of specialty nibbles. They are super fast and easy to make, absolutely delicious, and in this case, both vegetarian and gluten-free,

Meet the tapioca cheese fritter

I was first introduced to these by a Brazilian pal, who said they are a version of a traditional recipe (dadinhos de tapioca con queijo) that is often seen in Rio de Janeiro. I've never been to Brazil, but if this is what it tastes like, it might be time to remedy that.

You can source different recipes for these fritters online, but I have worked to make it a ratio-based version so that once you have made it a few times, you'll be able to do it by rote, no recipe needed.

Tapioca Cheese Fritters

Ingredient ratios:

1 part small tapioca balls (be sure not to buy large tapioca, or you'll find the balls do not fully soften)

1.5 parts grated cheese (I use a hard flavorful cheese like Parmesan, pecorino, Romano, manchego, or others. Experiment to see what you like; softer cheeses create fritters that are a bit softer and slightly harder to fry.)

2 parts whole milk

A good place to start: For every 4-6 people you want to serve as part of an appetizer spread, I would start with 1 cup tapioca, 1½ cups grated cheese and 2 cups milk. But scale up or down as you desire.

To make the fritter batter: 

1. To make the batter, mix the tapioca and the cheese together in a heatproof medium bowl.

2. Line a square pan with parchment paper and spray with nonstick spray.

3. Heat the milk to boiling, and season well with salt and ground white pepper. Add a few gratings of nutmeg if you like.

4. Pour the boiling seasoned milk over the tapioca and cheese mix and stir with a rubber spatula vigorously until you get a texture similar to risotto (it should be still pourable but thick and not soupy).

5. Pour into your lined pan, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming, and let rest at room temp for 2-4 hours. If you are not going to make the fritters right away, store in the fridge until you are ready to fry.

To make the fritters:

1. Use the parchment paper to remove the sheet of tapioca cheese mixture from the pan. Dust lightly with tapioca starch, rice flour, or corn starch to prevent it sticking. Cut into squares or sticks the size you want for your fritter. Shake the fritters to remove excess starch from the outside; you want just enough to keep them from sticking together. 

2. If deep frying, bring your oil to 350° and fry in batches until crisp and golden brown. If shallow frying, put a half-inch of a neutral high-heat oil like grapeseed or avocado in a skillet and fry your fritters with at least a one-inch space between them, turning often to brown all sides.

3. Remove the fritters to a rack over a sheet pan that has a paper towel on it to remove excess oil. Sprinkle lightly with flaky salt as soon as they come out of the fryer. Serve hot or warm (you can hold the fritters in a 200° oven on a rack or a sheet pan to keep warm before serving). 

If you like, serve with a punchy chimichurri sauce for dipping.