Nuts about coconuts

King coconuts, the tender flesh of young coconut

Yes, it’s all about coconuts.

The coconut tree is commonly seen almost all through Sri Lanka, apart from the mountainous up country regions or the north. The west and south coasts are fringed with coconut palms and this versatile tree is used in many ways – not just for the nuts.

The trunk wood is used in furniture and building, the leaves are dried and woven for roofing, the flowers are used as decorations for weddings and funerals, and the tender young lime green leaves are woven into intricate panels and designs and again decoratively used for special occasions. The flowers are bruised to tap the sap which is made into a drink called toddy, which is also fermented and distilled to make the stronger liquor arrack. The pith of the trunk is sweet and crunchy and can be eaten. The nuts are also used in cooking and oil is extracted from the flesh, after which the dried flesh is used as cattle fodder. The fibrous coir from the husk of the nut is used for making rope, string, mattresses, upholstery, door mats, brushes, brooms, padding and sacking. The peat or dust of the fibre is now used in horticulture as a mulch or as a growing medium. The dried shells of the nuts are used as bowls and spoons, and the charcoal from the burnt shells is the best for barbecues. Every part of the tree is used – so it has rightly earned the name The Tree of Life.

I love the coconut tree in all its forms and so have been experimenting with one of my favourite ingredients: Coconut. I love using it in every form, the water, flesh – both tender young flesh, and the more mature firmer flesh, using it sliced, grated, toasted or made into milk both thick and thin using freshly grated flesh. I was surprised at how much of the deliciously sweet water is wasted when a coconut is split open to grate the flesh for making coconut milk. I always break open the coconut over a bowl and save the water for using in cooking or drinking.

a refreshingly light coconut mousse

I now use the water to cook rice which gives it a delicate sweet coconut flavour. However I have discovered that it is best to use water and coconut water 50:50, as using only coconut water can result in the rice catching and burning at the bottom of the pan due to its sugar content.
Coconut water and coconut oil are now very popular, considered to be super foods and are found in most supermarkets and health food stores. Coconut can be used in any of its forms in both sweet and savoury dishes and is definitely one of my all time faves. Check out the recipe for my coconut mousse/jelly: a refreshingly light and delicious dessert, particularly after a rich spicy meal.