One of the most wonderful things about living here in Thailand is having ready access to the luscious, tropical fruits and vegetables common to Indian cuisine, which I’d previously done very little cooking with before, always having lived in the cold climates of the U.S. and Europe (I didn’t do much sophisticated cooking during the time I lived in Africa). But here in the warm, humid climate of Southeast Asia (we just came out of one of Bangkok's hottest summers, with high temperatures pushing past the 100F/38C degree mark regularly), I’m re-discovering so many of the wonderful fruits and vegetables that I enjoyed during childhood trips back to India. Things like green mangoes, papayas, guavas…all in plentiful abundance! But without a doubt, tender coconuts are the biggest joy of all!
The water of tender coconuts has long been recognized in India, Thailand and other tropical climates for its cooling properties as well as all of its health benefits. Full of dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, there's nothing better than coconut water to beat the heat and stay hydrated. It's no wonder then that coconut water is becoming quite the trendy beverage in North America and Europe now as well, particularly among athletes who have recognized that it is full of electrolytes and thus perfect or hydration. The "meat" of tender coconut is equally great. There's nothing like buying a tender coconut on the street or in a restaurant, sipping the water with a straw and then scraping out and eating the meat with a spoon.
Looking at the abundance of tender coconuts available here in Thailand year-round, I decided that it was time to start cooking with them. I remembered a luscious tender coconut kheer that one of my aunts made once when I was visiting Chennai (thanks, Periamma!). In Tamil, it's called elaneer payasam (elaneer means coconut water) and it was seriously one of the best desserts that I've ever had. Knowing that I just had to replicate it, I adapted this recipe from Tarla Dalal. It was as simple as pie (other than the process of breaking open the coconuts and scraping out the flesh, which can take a bit of time) and was utterly delicious. Since the quantity produced was too much for just the two of us, I poured the remaining kheer into some popsicle molds to make...tender coconut kheer pops! Try this in whatever form you like, but make sure to try it! If you live in a more temperate climate, look for tender coconuts in your local Asian supermarket.
TENDER COCONUT KHEER (ELANEER PAYASAM)
Adapted from Tarla Dalal
2 tender coconuts, both the water and the meat
1 cup lowfat milk
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom powder
2/3 - 3/4 cup (sweetened) condensed milk
1/4 cup cashews, lightly toasted and chopped
Additional pinch of saffron
Additional pinch of freshly ground cardamom powder
1. Break open the tender coconuts. Here’s a video guide if you’re not sure how to do it.
2. Pour the coconut water into a large bowl and scrape out the coconut meat into another bowl. Place
3. Boil the milk. Take it off the heat, pour into a large bowl and stir in the saffron threads and
4. Once the milk has completely cooled down, mix in 2 cups of the reserved coconut water (you
should have some left over for a refreshing drink) and the condensed milk and stir well. For the
condensed milk, add a little bit at a time and taste for sweetness.
5. Put the kheer into the fridge and chill completely.
6. When you’re ready to serve, chop up the coconut meat and stir in.