While the hardy husk of the coconut suggests nothing of the sweetness within, its milk and cream are versatile ingredients in everything from bakes to beverages. In 2010, people are eating it in everything.
The humble coconut has sustained islanders and people in the East and Far East for centuries. Every part of the plant can either be used as building material, or as food.
When choosing coconut, make sure the liquid sloshes when you shake it, and the eyes are free of mould. Pierce it through an eye using a hammer and screwdriver, then drain the liquid.
If it's old, you can also roast it whole (at 200 deg. C for 20 minutes), shell it then scrape the meat out. Roast the flesh if you want dried coconut to create coconut milk or to use in cooked dishes.
When buying coconut milk, choose the thick variety or coconut cream; you can always thin it. When you open the can, there may be a layer of coconut cream. Simply shake or stir to incorporate, or skim to remove some of the calories. Coconut milk is perishable, so refrigerate and use within 3 days.
You can quite safely use coconut milk wherever you would use normal milk, that is in coffee, custards, omelettes, soups and baking. You can also use it to deglaze a pan, to cook vegetables, rice, noodles or fruit in an also in cereals.
Coconut oil, though high in saturared fat, is used for frying. It's also a common ingredient in soaps.
Coconut water is a great refreshing drink full of trace elements that is traditionally used to treat dehydration (and to cure hangovers!)
Coconut milk and cream (produced by squeezing liquid from a mixture of grated coconut flesh and water or milk) are used in drinks (such as lassi), ice creams, curries, soups and desserts.
Dried or desiccated coconut is primarily used in desserts.
Quick ideas with coconut:
- Stir coconut milk into crème fraîche, then add chopped shallot and toss with steaming mussels. Serve with warm, crusty bread.
- For a tea-time treat, mix coconut cream with icing sugar, then add a few drops of coconut essence and drizzle over tiny fairy cakes.
- Create coconut pancakes by substituting milk for coconut milk. Serve with vanilla-bean ice cream and ginger syrup.
- Make sweet-potato-and-ginger broth with a touch of chilli and garlic. Just before serving, add coconut milk. Heat, then garnish with toasted cashew nuts and freshly chopped coriander.
- In a blender, whizz up a mixture of coconut milk, grated lemongrass, and frozen yoghurt or ice cream to create a refreshing milkshake.
- Mix coconut milk and a drop of coconut essence. Freeze, then crush and serve as granita with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and crushed mint.