Coconuts have significance within the Hindu religion and play a role in a variety of rituals and in South India no gift is complete without a coconut.
Traditionally kids would climb up trees after a dip in the sea, and the reward was breaking open the green tender coconuts and drinking the sweet alkaline water nestled within. This self-biodegradable nature’s bounty has benefits from its shell to its water. Handicrafts to tooth brushes, virgin oils and more are made from this wondrous creation of Nature. To truly enjoy nature’s coconut bounty one must visit Goa in the monsoon when it is lush and verdant with the coconut palms swaying to the breeze amidst the backdrop of Konkani music and feni.
My host is the multi-faceted chef and hostess, Shagun Mehra whose gastronomic feats have taken her to the kitchens of Michelin star chef Xavier Pellicer in Barcelona for a unique ‘Four hands’ dinner where she created dishes blending the best of Indian flavours with local Spanish ingredients.
“Coconuts have practically no-wastage. I use almost all of the fruit-right from its flesh, water, milk, oil to coconut flour, coconut sugar and butter. Most households include coconut in various food preparations that are usually savoury but it can be easily incorporated in sweet recipes, as well as raw dishes, and beverages. We also create some light and tasty dishes like runner bean salad and an unusual chilled drumstick soup using coconut to add body and depth,” Shagun reveals. So, its apt that the coconut tree is called the kalpavriksha or tree that grants boons.
Its role in religious ceremonies is widely known and in South India no gift is complete without a coconut. In the absence of idols, coconuts often represent gods and goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon, the 3 black spots of the coconut represent the eyes and the sacred dot on the forehead of the deity.
Shake the coconut when buying fresh ones to ensure it has water. If there is no sound it means the kernel is dry and tough. Fresh coconuts stay for a week. Flesh can be grated and frozen for three months. Desiccated and powdered coconut shouldn’t smell oily.
The humble coconut also known as ‘Shrifal’ or ‘Fruit of the Gods’ is used in several dishes — in chutney, kheer, ladoos, rice preparation, soups, Thai cooking... In fact each region in the world, has its own unique coconut dishes. They say if you are stranded on an island it’s possible to survive if there are coconut trees and no other source of sustenance!
NUTRITIVE BENEFITS OF COCONUTS
Here’s why coconut is so good for you
Nature’s sports drink:
Natural sugar, potassium, vitamins, electrolytes and antioxidants hail coconut water as the best and most effective energy drink.
Coconut oil derived from the flesh is high in MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), the good fat is beneficial for the brain and can help prevent inflammation and diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory:
The water is the same ph as blood plasma, the flesh has healing properties and the oil can help moisture the insides of our internal organs and rebuild them. Anti-bacterial properties heal candida, oral health, acne, dandruff, eczema and many other dry or oily skin problems.
Polyphenolics from virgin coconut oil:
Benefits arthritis with its healing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A new found love for vegans, coconut milk is rich in calcium, potassium, vitamins and minerals. Can be used to make smoothies and ice-creams. Coconut yogurt is also highly recommended and delicious.
Organs need oil to absorb and retain micronutrients from food. Without the right fat and right combination of nutrients, hormones can lose balance. Coconut oil can help maintain that balance, preventing depression, irregular menstrual cycles, mental illness and mood swings.
Payal Kothari, Integrative Nutritionist & Life Coach, Mumbai
RIDGE GOURD SALAD
2 cups sliced ridge gourd
½ cup boiled chana dal
½ cup grated coconut
2 tablespoons lime juice
½ cup pomegranate kernels
1 tablespoon Chinese sesame oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 garlic (crushed and chopped fine)
Blanch the ridge Gourd for 10 mins in hot salted water. Keep aside to cool
Make dressing of sesame oil, salt, pepper, garlic and brown sugar. Mix well
In a bowl mix the ridge gourd, coconut & pomegranate
Incorporate the dressing and keep aside for 5 minutes before serving
MANGO TAPIOCA COCONUT CREAM
3 cups coconut milk
Boil 3 cups coconut milk with brown sugar on low flame until thick. Cool.
Soak Sago (sabudana) overnight and boil until soft
Remove the pulp of the mango and strain until smooth
Mix all ingredients well and serve in a halved coconut shells
Top with roasted almond slivers and crushed ice
RUNNER BEAN PORIYAL SALAD
200 gm runner beans
½ cup freshly grated coconut
1 tsp urad dal (split black gram lentil)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp curry leaves
1 dried whole red chilli
½ juice of a lime
1/4 th tsp brown sugar
Salt to taste
Cut runner beans lengthwise into 3 inch sticks
Boil water add salt and add the beans for exactly one minute
Strain in bed water for 2 minutes
Strain pat dry and keep aside
Heat oil in a small pan, add mustard seeds, urad dal, red chilli and curry leaves. Let them pop.
Keep aside and cool
Add lime, coconut and salt and sugar to the beans.
Add the tadka on top.
Chilled Drumstick Soup: (serves 4)
2 cups fresh coconut milk
5-6 drumsticks (singha fali)
½ shallot finely chopped
½ tomato deseeded and finely chopped
½ green chili deseeded and finely chopped
½ cup coriander finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Salt to taste
Chop the drumsticks into 2-inch lengths and boil in salted water for 1/2 hour. Strain. Open and remove the pulp. Carefully separate the seeds from the pulp and keep aside. And blend the remaining pulp into a paste and strain till you get a smooth drumstick pureé.
In a bowl, mix the coconut milk with the drumstick pureé. Add the vegetables, lemon and salt. And refrigerate for an hour. In the serving glass, add the drumstick seeds that you kept aside. This will add the crunch to the soup. Add the chilled soup and serve.
(All recipes courtesy Shagun Mehra, Director of Cuisine, Coco Shambhala, Goa)