Total coconut | Caribbean Cookup (March/April 2002)

What you can do with the humble coconut

  • Courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Limited
  • Coconuts on sale around the Savannah, Port of Spain. Photograph by Alwyn Sin Pang
  • Courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Limited

Total (Coco)Nut

Hunters extract “sky grease” from coconuts, and use the rich oily milk to cook their meat. From the forest, coconut milk has found its way into the pots of Creole cooks, into stewed chicken and callaloo, and into pelau and chataigne1 talkari2.

The hero of Papillon, who escaped from Devil’s Island in French Guiana, claimed to have kept himself alive and healthy on the thick crisp white kernel of one fresh coconut per day. There was once a man who amazed viewers of the  Trinidadian television show Scouting for Talent by husking coconuts with his teeth.

You don’t have to go to such lengths to indulge a taste for coconut. You’ll find it in ice cream, in sweets like Sugar Cake and Toolum (coconut boiled in molasses), and in breads, cakes and tarts. There is now powdered coconut milk, coconut cream and coconut oil, all for use in cooking, on the shelves of most Caribbean supermarkets.

The green nuts provide refreshing coconut water. Drunk straight from the shell, the water is known to be rich in minerals and natural salts. Remember the refrain of this popular song?

Coconut woman is calling out:

Get your coconut water, you can hear her shout.

Get your coconut water!

It’s so good for your daughter,

Gives you lotta lotta iron

Makes you strong like a lion …

Coconuts are grown on estates on many Caribbean islands. One of the most impressive must be the Cocal, extending for miles along Trinidad’s east coast. There, copra — the kernels of coconuts ripened and dried in the sun — is produced. From this, oil is extracted, and is used in cooking, and in cosmetics and skin creams.

Cocoyea brooms are made from the mid-ribs of the individual fronds of the coconut leaf. The dried husks of the coconut are excellent for rooting and growing orchids. The tree has been called the “tree of life” for its many uses: invigorating drink; nourishing food; oil for cooking and also for use in the “deyas” (small oil lamps) of the Hindu festival of Divali. Both the leaves and bark of the tree are used for thatch and housing materials.

No one knows the origin of the coconut. For centuries, Pacific islanders used the nuts as a source of food and the tree’s long columnar trunks for construction material. In the West Indies, it is said that no one in Columbus’s day saw scenic palm trees bending over white sand beaches. There is speculation that coconuts were introduced by the early settlers, or may even have floated thousands of miles to beach themselves on Caribbean islands.

Both are possible scenarios. What is certain is that coconuts are now found everywhere in the tropics, and are a distinctive feature of island landscapes. Since the discovery of the Americas, they  have circumnavigated the globe.

The whole nuts — each larger than a man’s head — grow in clusters of up to 20 at the base of the leaf stalks of the coconut palms, about 60 feet above ground. The tall trees take up to eight years to mature, and can live over 100 years. They are lofty nesting sites for the birds and small animals like squirrels. Dwarf species of coconut have been developed. They mature in three to five years, but do not live as long as the taller trees.

New plants grow out of the nuts that have been left to dry on the ground. Shucked of its husk, the seed or nut has three small indentations from which the root and shoot grow. These gave it the appearance of a funny little monkey’s face, called “coco” by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century.

1 Family to the breadfruit

2 Curried

 

RECIPES

Jerked Shrimp with Coconut

Ingredients

1 tsp Maggi Tastemakers, vegetable-flavoured

15-20 jumbo shrimp

1/2 cup Nestlé UHT Long Life Full Cream Milk

1/3 cup Maggi Coconut Milk Powder

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp Maggi Jerk Seasoning

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 slices toasted bread

Method

Season shelled, cleaned shrimp with Tastemakers and set aside. Mix together milk and coconut milk powder. Heat in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add jerk seasoning. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the seasoned shrimp and reduce the heat. Simmer for 7-8 minutes to blend all the flavours. Pour the mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle with grated cheese. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 400˚ F for approximately 15 minutes until the shrimp is browned. Served with toast cut into halves. Baked potato and broccoli go well with this dish.

Basil Chicken in Coconut Sauce

Ingredients

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

3 tsp Maggi Tastemakers, chicken-flavoured

1/2 tsp each — ground cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, coriander and cumin

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp chilli powder

1 large onion, chopped 

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 pimento peppers or 1 sweet pepper, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

6 tbsp Maggi Coconut Milk Powder

1 cup water

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tbsp snipped basil

1 tbsp finely chopped ginger

Method

Rinse chicken, pat dry. Cut into 1-inch pieces and season with 2 tsp Tastemakers, turmeric and chili powder. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. In a large non-stick wok or skillet, add oil and heat. Add and stir onion, garlic and peppers over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Remove the onion mixture from the wok. Add half the chicken to the oil and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes, or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Remove chicken, add the remaining chicken and cook as above. Combine Coconut Milk Powder, the remaining 1 tsp Tastemakers, water and cornstarch. Carefully add to the wok. Cook and stir until bubbly. Return the chicken and onion mixture to the wok. Stir in basil and ginger. Cook and stir about 2 minutes more or until heated through. Serve hot over rice.

Coconut Delight

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups Digestive biscuits, crushed

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter melted

For filling

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

3 cups Nestlé Long life UHT Full Cream Milk

3 egg yolks, slightly beaten

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla

2/3 cup Maggi Coconut Milk Powder

Method

Mix the crumbs, sugar and butter together in a bowl. Press and pat crumb mixture into the pie pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 350˚ F. Set aside. Dissolve coconut milk powder in 1/2 cup milk and set aside. Combine the sugar and flour in a saucepan. Stir in 2 1/2 cups milk and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly until thick. Add egg yolks and continue to cook, stirring for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend in the butter, coconut milk and vanilla. Let the custard cool for about 15 minutes, then pour into the pie shell and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Manzanilla Magic — Coconut Ice Cream

Ingredients

3/4 cup Nestlé Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 pk (250 ml) Nestlé Green Butterfly Evaporated Milk

2 cans (397g) Nestlé Sterilised Cream

1 cup Maggi Coconut Milk Powder

Method

In a bowl, mix all the ingredients. Blend or beat until well mixed. Pour into a container and freeze for about 2 1/2 hours. Remove and serve.

Recipes courtesy Nestlé Trinidad and Tobago Limited