Updated: May 27
Bunny & the Bearli's admire coconut palms at sunset on the beach outside our guest house Whispering Shells in Kalutara, Sri Lanka.
King coconut. Possibly one of the things that makes me love southern India and Sri Lanka so much is the coconut. Plentiful on the trees, coconut can be found in savory and sweet dishes. One morning we watched a young man climb up the side of a coconut tree on the beach in front of us. To capture his prize he had a small strip of flat rope fastened at each ankle which served as a sort of pulley, he climbed the tree swiftly and within minutes it was raining coconuts. That very morning there was fresh shaved coconut on my plate for breakfast. Having seen the capture of the coconut I wanted to know how it had been shaved. With little English and a big heart the older gentleman attending that morning at our guest house brought me to the kitchen and showed me a magnificently simple device attached to the side of the counter with a sharp multi pointed blade protruding from it. He showed me how he scraped the coconut and even allowed me to do it myself. While I was not nearly as deft as he, at least I knew now where all that shaved coconut was coming from.
On this trip I rediscovered that proper coconut milk is a snap to make from that very shaved coconut. Once the coconut is shaved it is mixed with - preferably filtered - water and then the grated coconut is squeezed over and over until the water is the rich milky white of the coconut milk that later arrives on my table. In this case the shaved coconut is simply discarded – I wonder if someone uses it for cooking? Alas we are in an age of hurry hurry and even in India and Sri Lanka you can find the same coconut powder we find on the shelves here in Europe for instant coconut milk.
Here Claudio, Bunny, & Bearli watch over my favorite breakfast puttu, served with shaved coconut and coconut milk at the Elephant Safari House.
Throughout Southern India and Sri Lanka coconut is used as a body and hair moisturizer, as cooking oil, and of course in various recipes both savory and sweet, and even as milk for coffee. Locals use its water, milk, oil, and meat. Even the hard brown shells are used for making fires, which is why coconuts are banned on flights as they are considered flammable!
In the west, coconut has gained popularity as a panacea for many health issues, including obesity, heart disease, and blood sugar regulation.
Realistically, coconut may be part of a healthy eating lifestyle, especially if you live where they grow and are deeply-rooted in the culinary traditions. Coconut is defined equally as a fruit, a seed, and a nut. Objectively coconut does have many positive health properties, which include being: - high in manganese, essential for bone health and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and cholesterol - rich in copper and iron, which help form red blood cells, as well as selenium, an important antioxidant that protects your cells - rich in protein and high in fiber
Over- indulging in coconut however may lead to weight gain, and it is best eaten in moderation if weight loss is an issue. For me, coconut in all its forms (including use for as hair and skin moisturizer) fit perfectly into my motto – “eat where you are” and I indulged, following the natural way of life where we were and I loved every moment related to coconut!
After two months enjoying this blissful local treat in abundance, imagine my delight and gratitude when the first meal we had at the home of friends when we returned ended with coconut cookies for dessert! (Note, the meal was pizza, for which Claudio was in heaven?). Knowing that Barbara makes everything from scratch, I asked her for permission to put her recipe here for all to enjoy.
Left Barbara with HER cookies; right Barbara's cookies literally on a silver tray.