Tuesday, May 19, 2015

2015 May 19: Coconuts and Coconut Milk

Coconuts and coconut milk are staples of Sri Lankan life. Both are used daily in cooking, sambols, raw and even as a seasoning. While it is high in saturated fat, coconut meat and milk has no cholesterol. It is a good source of sodium, potassium and magnesium, three minerals that must be replenished often in this land where perspiration leaches minerals from the body at an alarming rate. It also provides iron, B12, B6 and dietary fibre.

To open a coconut, you just need a thick sharp edge to whack against the middle of the drupe. Any edge will do - just be sure that it is an edge that you don't mind having broken, as coconuts can be very hard! Most people use the back of a thick knife, but even a concrete block or a step will do in a pinch.

One of the rewards of opening your own coconut is that you get to drink the coconut water straight from the shell. You can't get much fresher than this!

To get the meat out, you should use a scraper. There are two basic kinds - one that looks like a citrus juicer that has a crank that you turn, and one that looks like a small bench that you sit on, like this one:

First you scrape along the edges to smooth them out. Then you scrape the middle, turning the coconut slightly after every few scrapes. You know you are done when no meat is left inside the coconut. (Don't worry if there is a little brown from the inside as well.)

At our Sri Lankan New Year celebration, these were our expert coconut scrapers. 

My friend Champika showed me how it is done. If you are good at it, it should take you about two minutes per half coconut, or four minutes total.

Here I am scraping coconut for the first time. 

Needless to say, it took me a lot longer than two minutes!

If you just want coconut meat for recipes or to eat plain, you are finished now. But if you are looking for coconut milk, keep reading....

Coconut milk has got to be one of the easiest things to make. Ever. I am completely serious! All you do is...wash your grated coconut.

Yes, you read that correctly. You wash it.

Take your freshly grated coconut and place it in a bowl. Add a cup of fairly warm water. Mix it around a little. Then squeeze all the water out of it and place it into a second bowl. You can use a cheesecloth if you like, but using your hands also works. This is called thick coconut milk. It is used for desserts and sauces, including curries. It is rich and creamy.

Pour another cup of water over your coconut, and again squeeze out the liquid, reserving the coconut in a third bowl. This is called thin coconut milk. It is used for general cooking and in soups.

Repeat the process one more time. You will end up with a slightly coconut scented or flavoured water. Use this to cook starchy vegetables such as potatoes, yams or manioc.

If you have a food processor or blender you can wash your coconut one more time by blending and then draining the liquid. This liquid can be used the same as the third wash, or use it to thin dishes where the sauce has become too thick.

The meat is then discarded.

If you are going to drink the coconut milk, you should mix the first three washes together.

Of course, canned coconut milk is always an option when cooking. It is usually a mix of the first two washes.