Coconuts! Coconuts! Coconut-uh woman is calling out, and every day you can hear her shout: “get your coconut water, man it's good for your daughter, coca got a lotta iron, make you strong like a lion-uh roooaarr!”
Harry Belafonte's famous song immortalised this incredible fruit, synonymous the world over with sandy white beaches, clear blue oceans and swaying palm trees. Ask most people, especially in the West, what comes to mind when you say coconuts and they would say holidays, cocktails and a good time!
For many people, especially in the East however, coconuts are a staple that many communities would not be able to live without -- and not just for eating and drinking, but for construction, for health and for beauty also.
The health and beauty benefits are starting to be realised in the West now also though, with models and personal trainers touting the benefits especially of coconut oil and coconut water.
Let's start with the top five reasons we love coconuts:
They contain good fats (yes, such a thing exists!)
Coconuts are considered as superfoods, because of their unique combination of fatty acids -- which can aid fat loss, better brain function and various other amazing benefits. Coconuts contain saturated fats, more specifically called medium-chain triglycerides -- which go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, to be used as a quick source of energy or turned into so-called ketone bodies, which can have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's.
People who eat a lot of coconut are some of the healthiest on the planet
Coconut is seen almost as an exotic food in the West, primarily consumed by health conscious people. In many tropical parts of the world however, it is a staple that people have thrived on for generations. The best example is the Tokelauans from the South Pacific, who get over 60 per cent of their calories from coconuts and (gasp!) are the biggest consumers of saturated fat in the world. How healthy are they? They are in excellent health, with zero evidence of heart disease! This is the same as Kitavans. Sure, they also live in what many of us would see as idyllic conditions, but they also eat a lot of coconuts.
Goodbye nasty germs, hello coconut!
The lauric acid in coconut oil can kill bacteria, viruses and fungi, helping to stave off infections. Almost 50 per cent of the fatty acids in coconut oil is lauric acid. When coconut oil is enzymatically digested, it also forms a monoglyceride called monolaurin. Both lauric acid and monolaurin can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi; common examples include the bacteria staphylococcus aureus and the yeast candidaalbicans, a common source of yeast infections.
Coconut oil can make you more appealing!
This may be the most interesting feature of coconuts -- they make you eat less without even trying! Experts say this is because of the way that the fatty acids in it are metabolised. Studies show that people who eat medium chain triglycerides (like those in coconut oil) consume less calories per day. These benefits have also only been tested in the short term, but over a longer period this could lead to some impressive losses in overall body weight.
Coconut oil also helps to increase the rate at which fat is burnt, and has also been found to be especially effective in reducing abdominal fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs.
Coconut oil can protect hair against damage, moisturise skin and be used as sunscreen
Coconut oil can serve so many other purposes apart from food! As many people in the East already know, coconut oil is excellent for improving the health and appearance of skin and hair.
Studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture and lipid content of the skin, protect against hair damage and act as sunscreen, blocking about 20 per cent of the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Short on mouthwash or toothpaste? Another application is using it like mouthwash in a process called oil pulling, which can kill some of harmful bacteria in the mouth, improve dental health and reduce bad breath.
Some more delicious facts
In Bangladesh, we have our green coconut water to quench our thirst, to add in curries to make them deliciously extravagant and of course as the essential ingredient in winter narikel pithas. How else have others used it in the past though?
Used as an intravenous saline drip for many allied forces soldiers during the WWII, green coconut water is also believed to bestow spiritual growth according to the Hindu religion.
Coconuts are known to have originated from regions around the Indian Ocean and due to their buoyancy, their seeds have travelled far and wide now available in all tropical destinations. The coconut palm is known as kalpavriksha in Sanskrit, meaning "tree which gives all that is necessary for living," because nearly all parts of the tree can be used in some manner or another.
Rasam is a Tamil word meaning essence. This normally tangy soup like dish can be served with plain rice or fried luchis but we suggest pita breads with a lovely green garden salad of radish, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce.
½ cup dried red lentils, washed
7-8 cups water
1 tsp ground turmeric
Salt to taste
2 tbsp vegetable oil
10 fresh curry leaves
2 tsp black mustard seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
One fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1 (12-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tbsp tamarind paste
Boil the lentils, 4 cups water, turmeric, and salt until the lentils are tender (about 30 minutes). Fry the curry leaves in the vegetable oil for about a minute until fragrant and remove few leaves for garnishing. Add the mustard seeds, asafoetida, ginger, and tomato and cook until the tomato begins to dry, about 3 minutes. Add the lentils, 3-4 cups of the water, the coconut milk, tamarind, and black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 3 minutes.
Serve with plain rice or pita bread, garnished with the fried curry leaves and coriander.
Pina Colada (virgin)
1 large pineapple, coconut cream and brown sugar (optional)
Coconut cream: 1 cup of shredded coconut added with 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil. Blend the flakes in a food processor and add some oil to make it into a paste. Preserve this cream.
Take 1 whole pineapple and use a juicer to get its juice. Add about 1 tablespoon of the coconut cream paste into a serving glass and add the pineapple juice with some ice to chill it. You may add one teaspoon of brown sugar per glass but the pineapple juice should be sweet enough on its own.
Thai mango and sticky rice!
300g sticky rice (a glutinous rice, sometimes sold as sushi rice)
250ml coconut milk
3 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
2-3 ripe mangoes
2-4 tbsp coconut cream (you can freeze the rest)
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Banana leaves, for serving if you can find them
Soak the sticky rice in cold water for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly. Line a steamer with double thickness muslin or a J-cloth (single thickness) and place the rice on top. Bring the water in the steamer to the boil and steam the rice over moderate heat for 30 minutes, turning halfway. Put in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the coconut milk and sugar in a small pan and heat gently, stirring all the time, until the sugar has dissolved. Do not boil. Stir in the salt and pour over the cooked rice, stirring gently; set aside to cool.
Peel the mangoes and cut off the two outer cheeks of each fruit, as close to the stones as possible. Discard the stones. Slice each piece of fruit into thin lengthways slices.
Put a mound of rice on a dish lined with a leaf and nestle the mango next to it. Pour the coconut cream over and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Grilled bhetki with coconut rice/couscous
1 large bhetki fish cleaned and sliced
1 cup basmati rice washed
1 cup coconut milk and 2 tbsp coconut cream
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (roasted on a skillet)
2 large spring onions
1 zucchini (in case of couscous or 1 carrot in case of rice)
1 tbsp almonds (chopped and roasted on a skillet)
If using rice then 1 tsp fennel seeds and a dash of saffron strands; for couscous use 1 tbsp raisins.
Grilled bhetki --
1 cup lemon juice
Pinch of garlic paste
1 tbsp pepper
Pinch of fresh dill (for couscous only) and fresh parsely
Salt to taste
Cook the rice like you normally would and when the water is about to dry out add the coconut milk and leave covered on stove until rice is cooked through. Add the cream once a little cool. For the couscous, boil 1 cup couscous with enough water to cover it. After about 8-10 minutes when the couscous feels al dente, add the boiled coconut milk and cook some more. Add the coconut cream once a little cool. Lightly sauté the spring onions in olive oil and mix with the rice. Boil the carrots for 3-4 minutes until soft but still crunchy and add to the rice. For couscous boil the zucchini and add.
For both couscous and rice, add the almonds, the pumpkin seeds, some fresh parsely. For the rice only add the fennel seeds and sprinkling of saffron strands boiled in water. Add raisins in the couscous.
For the Grilled Fish –
Smear the fish with the green herbs ground to make a paste and marinate the fish in the lemon juice and garlic paste for about 15-20 minutes. For couscous use dill; use only parsley for the rice. Sprinkle some salt and smear some olive oil before sticking the fish into the oven for a grill.
Preheat oven at about 270⁰ Celsius for about 10 minutes then reduce to about 150⁰ Celsius and grill the fish in an open grill tray until both sides are browned.
On a bed of couscous or rice, place the fish pieces and sprinkle the herbs on top. Serve the pina colada drink with it to enjoy a hint of coconut in its varied forms.