You can’t polish a coconut – or can you?

Nuts for coconuts

nuts for coconuts

I make a prediction: coconut is about to have its day and not just on exotic far-flung islands.

Last week, I posted a recipe for coconut pancakes that had everyone swooning and this week, I noticed that SmittenKitchen has a so-sweet-it-could-crack-a-tooth recipe for coconut milk fudge. My own backyard brewery, Kona Brewery launched a coconut beer over the winter months that was so popular, last I heard, they were considering making it a regular offering. Further, you watch, now that Coca-cola has bought into the coconut water world, you’ll start seeing it everywhere. Starting right here  — on this blog. I’m just waiting for Oprah to scoop me on this one..you know, the next miracle food. Just remember where you heard it first.

So what’s a foodie to make of this slightly gorilla-looking “nut” of the tropical variety? As you probably guessed by my foreshadowing quotes, coconuts aren’t nuts at all; they are drupes, like mangoes and olives. From an eating perspective, coconut meat is disappointingly plain tasting and the water itself is a bit bitter. I’ve often wondered, “how hungry WAS that guy who broke into a coconut?” Its actually a really fascinating food, not just for where it grows (in the USA: Hawaii and Florida only) or what botanical family is from, or even what new and cool beverages are showcasing the coconut.

Apparently this drupe is no rube – he gets around. Coconut milk, coconut water and coconut meat can and are used in a variety of Polynesian, Caribbean, and even eastern Indian cooking. The coconut milk adds a mild, fuller flavor to just about any food. We sometimes use 1/2 water and 1/2 coconut milk in our rice (see below for a MUCH better version).  The meat’s texture  distinctive and meaty, and can be enjoyed raw or cooked. Coconut flour is used as a low-carb, gluten-free alternative to regular flour and coconut oil is very stable, making it a great frying oil and it is completely safe when heated.  Given its many uses, its surprising that more of the northern hemisphere hasn’t caught on sooner.

From a health perspective, the hairy drupe with a poor reputation can be used for a variety of applications.  It turns out that coconut, besides relieving stress by conjuring up island images, is  quite good for your health, treating everything from dry skin to anxiety issues and even weight loss. One of the most amazing things I learned while doing some research on this topic, was the fact that coconut water is the universal blood donor; it can actually be used safely in human blood transfusions. Please tell me you aren’t amazed by that fact.

Natural, real coconut is not the sticky-gooey-over-processed flakes that we are so used to seeing. At our house, we are starting to use more coconut oil in our cooking. At first, I was afraid (..I was petrified), because despite my passion for my coconut-banana pancakes, I don’t really like overly-coconut flavors. But the oil itself is quite mild, we tried it out on tofu just to see how much the flavor was absorbed, and it turned out great. I wouldn’t say that it will entirely replace EVOO at our house, but we will continue to use it more and more. I’ll keep you updated as we progress.

In the meantime, here’s a recipe we’ll be using instead of our boring household rice, rich in flavor, not too sticky sweet:

In this simple, alluring dish, smashed ginger perfumes the rich, coconut milk–based cooking liquid, which in turn gives the brown jasmine rice a rich, velvety texture.  In Indonesia, coconut rice is often garnished with crisp fried shallots, which provide a crunchy counterpoint to the soft, creamy rice. For a recipe for crisp fried shallots go to saveur.com/crispyshallots.
Source: Saveur
Coconut Brown Rice
Photo: Andre Baranowski

1  1″ piece peeled fresh ginger
1 cup brown jasmine rice
3⁄4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

1. Using the back of a large knife, pound the ginger until it becomes bruised and somewhat stringy and releases some of is juice. This will take a few good whacks.

2. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold running water for 30 seconds. Transfer the rice to a 1 1⁄2-quart saucepan and add the coconut milk, 3⁄4 cup cold water, and the salt.

3. Add the ginger to the pan and stir well to combine with the rice, making sure that the ginger is as fully submerged in the rice as possible. Place the pan over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil while stirring with a large spoon to prevent the rice at the bottom of the pan from scorching or burning. (Don’t worry if the liquid thickens considerably as it comes to a boil; that’s a result of the combining of the fats in the coconut milk with the starch in the rice.)

4. Allow the rice to boil for 15 seconds, while continuing to stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the liquid is completely absorbed and rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from heat; allow the rice to continue to steam, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.

SERVES 2

From Saveur Magazine

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.