It seems like it was just the other day that I wrote telling you, I’m Nuts for Coconuts, but you know what? It’s been 9 years and I’m nuttier for coconuts! We all know the value of coconuts – a perfect gift from nature that we cook, eat, drink, wear and adorn ourselves.
However, occasions and activities such as this month’s “Coconut Awareness Week” and festival provide opportunities for us to renew our interest and explore the use of coconuts in our everyday lives. It is also a time for the movers and shakers in the industry to grow and maximize the potential of this super food, or as the festival organisers have themed it, “Awakening the Sleeping Giant”.
As a food writer I am constantly seeking to acquaint myself with new ingredients and to reacquaint myself with familiar ingredients. Each aspect of discovery has its own merits and eureka moments but I get more excited when I discover a different dimension of flavour or texture from a familiar ingredient. Most of the unearthing comes from coaxing the ingredients by applying different techniques of cooking or sometimes, not cooking (by fire or heat). At other times, it is about trying new pairing of ingredients such as herbs or spices.
Let me share with you some new ways (at least to me) that I have been enjoying coconuts – flesh/meat, oil and milk.
As Guyanese we are familiar with Coconut Choka – the fire roasting of fresh cracked coconuts that are then grated and ground to a paste along with garlic, hot peppers and a souring agent such as green mangoes, tamarind or souree. The making of Coconut Choka is an involved 3-step process that is a labour of love. One day, yearning for a Coconut Choka fix, and though very different, I turned to South Indian-style coconut chutneys where no or very little cooking is involved. These quick chutneys pack a lot of flavour and are refreshing. The use of the fresh coconut flesh without being heated is cooling on the palette with notes of inherent sweetness. Apart from the coconut itself, the spicing or flavouring of the chutneys comes from the tempering – the heating of oil and frying of whole spices and fragrant curry leaves.
The other thing about these fresh chutneys is that the coconut pairs so well with other ingredients such as carrots, green mangoes, mint, cilantro/coriander, and sweet peppers. Man you can make fresh coconut chutney for each day of the week.
Creating spiced savoury fillings with which to stuff okra/ochro or sweet fillings to encase in rolled fried ripe plantains are a celebration of the versatility of coconut as both a sweet and savoury ingredient.
Another outstanding thing about the coconut is its milk. Listen, coconut milk is not only for curries, Mettagee or Cook-up Rice. Make your own coconut cream (with a 1:1 ratio of grated fresh coconut and room temperature water – blend it together and squeeze) and use it in place of cream to make potato pie or scallop potatoes. And if you have never considered flavouring coconut milk, try it. For ages Grenadians have been flavouring their coconut milk with freshly grated turmeric to cook their national dish of Oil Down. The turmeric is hand grated with the coconut, and mixed together with water to make the flavoured coconut milk. Making dumplings with the same turmeric flavoured coconut milk not only gives the dumplings an attractive colour, they taste so nice!
Apart from turmeric, I’ve flavoured fresh coconut milk with grated ginger to make rice pilaf, and on other occasions I have toasted the grated coconut before blending it with water to make toasted coconut milk. These flavourings turn a simple plate of rice cooked with coconut milk and onions into a sumptuous meal.
Of all the ways I have been using the coconut and its by-products, I’d say the most exciting has been using the coconut oil that turns hard once refrigerated. Replacing very cold butter with the hardened coconut oil in the making pastries and scone-like biscuits has yielded results that are par excellence. The pastries are light and delicate.
The next stage of my coconut experiments would be in using the flour. Based on what I have read about coconut flour, so far, most of what is produced is the husk (after the milk has been extracted) that is ground to a fine powder. I am curious to investigate if any of the coconut flour producers have considered making a richer flour (that would have a shorter shelf life) where the shredded or grated coconut flesh would be dehydrated (with all the milk fat intact) and then pulverized into fine flour. The cooking/baking results of such a flour would be interesting to compare with the flour that has had the fat removed. Will keep you posted. I told you I have become nuttier for coconuts.