The coconut is the most important member of the palm family. The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decoration, as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm can be utilized by humans in some manner. The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people. Coconut fruit in the wild is light, buoyant and highly water resistant, and evolved to disperse over significant distances via marine currents. Fruit collected from the sea as far north as Norway are viable. In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in Oceania.

Coconuts in the strict botanical sense are not real nuts they just look like one. Coconuts are drupes like a peach where an edible flesh surrounds a hard seed; in the case of the coconut the flesh is fibrous and non edible but used for industrial purposes like making rugs. The word Coco was adopted by the Portuguese in India because the brown, hairy seed reminded them of an imaginary creature whose mention would scare children into obeying, " The Coco will come if you do not eat your greens" is still a common saying in Hispanic homes.

The Coconut palm is an ancient plant with many fossils found with millions of years in age. Most authorities claim it is native to South Asia (particularly the Ganges Delta of India). The Indian state of Kerala is known as the Land of coconuts. The name derives from "Kera" (the coconut tree) and "Alam" ( "place" or "earth").

Throughout tropical Latin America coconuts are ubiquitous, they are available everywhere from roadside vendor to supermarket and are incredibly cheap, usually around 0,30 US$. They are offered in 2 forms green and husked, the first are usually for drinking the coconut water, which is now considered medicinal; the latter are used for the flesh, which is used in cooking.

Coconut water deserves a especial commentary since it has been confirmed as the only cure for the modern hangover. Coconut water is the transparent liquid contained in the central cavity of the seed and should not be confused with coconut milk which is the white liquid extracted from the flesh. Coconut water contains the 5 electrolytes present in human blood, Gatorade by comparison only contains 2; during World War II in the pacific coconut water mixed with blood was used for emergency transfusions, the water is sterile until the seed is opened. One should not drink in excess, but if you do and feel terrible next day then drink 2 cups of coconut water, you will feel great within the hour; even better prepare your drinks with coconut water, not only there will not be any hangover but you will feel euphoric next day, but watch out, do not abuse it because similar hangover remedies led to the fall of the roman empire; scotch and coconut water on the rocks is one of the favorites drinks around the beaches of the Caribbean. Coconut water is being bottled in ever increasing quantities and sold all over the world.

Coconut palms are very easy to grow, just half bury one whole coconut on sandy soil, on the ground or a pot, keep it humid and it will sprout in a couple of months. If you are far from the sea it is good to spray some salt at the base once a year, coconut palms like saline soil.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Cocos nucifera


LOCAL NAMES: Coco, cocotero, pipa

PRODUCTS: oil, fibers, coconut water, coconut milk, dry shredded coconut, wine, syrups

NUTRIENTS: Coconuts are a great source of minerals for humans; the flesh has lots of fiber; the milk is high in saturated fats and should be consumed in moderation and with some of the fibers; the water also has many minerals plus vitamin C. For a detailed analysis of the nutrients follow the links below:

Coconut Water's Nutrients
Coconut flesh nutrient's

PROCESSING: In oder to use a coconut you first drain the water and then process the flesh. Below you will find some links to show you how to open a coconut and and make coconut milk:

How to open a Coconut
How to make coconut milk

STORING: Coconuts keep for weeks in a cool dry place, but they will become stale after a month.

SHRIMP MOQUECA: The coastal region of northeast brazil offers the best cooking with coconut that I have tasted in Latin America. The northeast coast of brazil is full of coconut groves, one can fly from Rio to Recife and only see coconut covered beaches for hours. The Moqueca is a famous dish in the city of Salvador de Bahia, it originated in the mixture of Portuguese and African cooking. In Brazil they use a palm oil that is yellow (Dende) to color the stew, but outside of brazil one can get a similar color by stir frying some achiote or onoto seeds (annatto) in vegetable oil, the seeds are found in any market. For this you need to marinate in the juice of 1 big lime 0.5 Kg (1 Lb) of shelled deveined shrimp for at least 30 minutes. In a large frying pan or wok, over medium heat add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, add a few seeds of achiote and stir until oil turns red, discard seeds and add 2 Tbs of olive oil, add 1 each of small white onion, green pepper, red pepper all cut in round slices, add 1 clove of garlic finely chopped, cook until onions are tender, increase heat to high and add shrimps and stir fry for a minute, add 2 cups of coconut milk, bring to boil and lower heat to simmer for 10 minutes, add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve in soup dish with a mold of rice in the middle, spray with fresh chopped green onion and cilantro.

RICE WITH COCONUT: Very typical dish in the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Panama. For 1 cup of rice you add 2 cups of coconut milk, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar (raspadura, panela), 1/2 teaspoon of salt, some 10 raisins, mix all ingredients in a pot, bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer for about 15 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed, turn off heat and let rest at least 15 minutes. To serve mold with a coffee cup and spray with chopped cilantro. It goes well with fish or chicken dishes.

SHREDDED FISH WITH COCONUT: This is a very economical and tasty way to eat fish. Get a 1.5 to 2 Kg ( 3 to 4 Lb) fish, any economical species will do fine, fishermen around the Caribbean often use chunks of shark meat, which is very cheap and sometimes is called curvinata. Cook the fish cut in chunks in boiling salted water, about 20 minutes, let it cool and with a fork and fingers shred the flesh of fish, if you are using a whole fish pick flesh from the head, you should have at least 4 cups of fish flesh, make sure you do not get any bone in the shredded flesh and reserve. Heat 1/2 cup of oil and stir a tablespoon of achiote seeds (annatto) until oil turns red, discard seeds. Make a sofrito with the red oil, 0.25 Kg (1/2 Lb) finely chopped deseeded sweet chilies, 1 finely chopped each large white onion, large green pepper, large red pepper, 4 large cloves of garlic finely chopped; stir fry the sofrito until it releases its aroma, about 5 minutes; add the shredded fish and stir to coat all flesh with the sofrito; add 4 cups of coconut milk, bring to boil and lower heat to simmer until liquid disappears but mixture remains moist, stir occasionally; add 4 Tbs of raisins and 1 Tbs of chopped capers; add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve with rice and fried plantains on the side and spray fish mixture with finely chopped green onion and cilantro. This stuff is addictive you will not stop eating it.

QUINDIMS DE IAIA: pronounced kinjin deh iahiah this a famous and very popular Brazilian dessert originated in the city of Salvador de Bahia. Beat 8 egg yolks with 1 cup of white sugar until it forms peaks, add 1 cup of very finely grated fresh coconut and beat to mix well, butter well some ramekin molds or coffee cups, place egg mixture inside up to half of the mold; place molds in large baking pan and fill with water until reaches half the height of molds; bake in oven at 350F for 1 hour until mixture sets and a knife inserted comes out clean. Let cool thoroughly and unmold. To serve you may use the egg whites to make a very stiff lime meringue to place on the side.

No comments:

Post a Comment