Cocoloco – cucumber salad with coconut and peanuts

I love coconut. My love affair with that wonderful deep, sweet flavour started with my first Bounty bar and has continued ever since. In the days when I consumed milk, I would always chose coconut ice cream or frappe, or anything coconut flavoured, unless strawberry was on offer. Living in South India is ideal for me as coconuts are everywhere! It’s a key ingredient in local dishes, and of course it’s dairy free.

Coconut, and coconut trees, have so many different uses. According to The Coconut Research Centre, about one third of the world’s population rely on coconut to some extent for food or income. The insides of coconuts are used in cooking, for health and skincare, but the shell, leaves and wood from the tree all have different uses too. The compound I live in has a whole area dotted with trees which provide lovely shady areas and a batch of highly sought after nuts. Some even grow in peoples garden, which can actually be quite hazardous as if the nuts fall before they can be harvested, they will damage your roof and certainly your head if one lands on you. There are many internet claims that falling coconuts kill 10 times more people a year than sharks (150) but I don’t think there are any solid statistics.

According to legend, coconuts, or coco nucifera, were given their name by 15th century explorers. The brown fibrous outer shell with three indentations were said to remind them of a monkey’s face (coco). Nucifera means “milk bearing”.  The mature nut is protected by a dense fibrous husk, 2-3 cms thick, which can be quite challenging to open up. There are machines which will open your nut and remove the meat inside, but I prefer to use the unusual kitchen tools of hammer and screwdriver or smash them outside onto the paving – great stress remover!

In India, coconut is consumed at two different stages of maturity – tender coconuts, young green nuts that are sold by street vendors for the water inside, and the mature, brown husk covered nut that are more familiar in Western countries, often found on the coconut shy at a summer fete. It’s the meat from the mature nut that is used to make coconut milk – the milk doesn’t come from the fluid inside but the flesh, or meat, which is scraped out, ground and then strained to extract the white fluid. Due to its fat content, when put in the fridge, the milk separates with a thinner milk lying underneath and a top layer of cream. 

If you can’t get your hands on a tin of coconut milk, or prefer to make your own fresh, it’s really easy. All you need break open a coconut and remove the flesh with a sharp knife – a thin brown layer of husk will come out too but that’s ok. Grind some of the meat – fill the grinder about half full. When all finely chopped up, add half a cup of warm water and grind again until the coconut is all mixed up with the water. Pass this through a fine sieve or muslin cloth (or fine weave tea towel) and squeeze out as much milk as you can. Put the fibre back into the grinder and add a bit more water and repeat the process, just to get as much milk out as possible. Once fully squeezed, discard the fibre – you could use it for a facial scrub I guess (not tried that out tho’).

Coconut meat, and therefore the milk, does have quite a high fat content (27g per 100g), but it’s a mixture of saturated, mono-unsaturated and omega 6 fatty acids. There is no cholesterol though, as this is only found in animal fats. Fat in coconut is in the form of medium chain fatty acids; these are easier to break down and can actually help reduce cholesterol levels. Lauric acid is the main fatty acid in the chain, a fantastic immune booster and an anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent.
Coconut meat is also great for the digestion as it’s high in fibre and can help reduce constipation, flatulence and stomach ulcers and can help stabilise blood sugar levels. It’s also a natural source of iodine and therefore can help support thyroid function as well as protect the body against cancer, osteoporosis and pancreatic disorders.

You can buy dried coconut milk powder but beware if you have a milk allergy as most of the brands I have seen also contain dried dairy milk. The freeze drying process would also knock out most of the nutritional benefits as well, so I would avoid those if at all possible. Wholefood and raw food diets advocate using fresh ground coconut as a fat or oil replacement as you can all the benefits, including the fibre, without needing to add extra oil. Try this South East Asian style salad and see what you think, although not if you have a peanut allergy!

Cucumber salad with peanuts and coconut (serves 4 big portions)
1 -2 cucumbers, depending where you live – one long English style or 2 shorter Indian style
3-4 tablespoons fresh grated coconut
3-4 tablespoons roasted peanuts (unsalted) crushed
juice 1/2 lime
salt to taste
finely chopped green chillis – depending on how hot you like it
dash of jaggery, or raw brown sugar
chopped fresh corianderMix all the ingredients except coriander together, adjusting the sugar, lime and salt to taste and garnish with the coriander.