Judging by the number of coconut products in supermarkets these days beyond the flaked coconut your granny used in macaroons and ambrosia weve gone a bit nuts for this fruit.
Thats right: The hairy brown ovoid is not a true nut but the stone of a drupe, which makes it related to peaches and plums.
Cooks in Asia, West Africa and the Caribbean have long used coconut milk (made by simmering coconut meat with water, then straining) and coconut oil (pressed from the meat) to enrich dishes in the same way cooks elsewhere might use cream or butter. Some newer products are coconut creatures of a different sort. Canned coconut milk used in a Thai curry, for example, is not the same as coconut milks found in grocery refrigerated cases.
Which means its important to know what youre buying (check ingredient and nutrition labels carefully), and dont assume coconut products will work like similar dairy products in cooking.
Special diets, food allergies and a search for healthier fats have helped fuel interest in many of the coconut products in supermarkets these days. But its important to know what nutrition youre getting and what youre not.
Here are just a few coconut products that might find their way into your kitchen:
Coconut, cultured: Similar in style to yogurts, kefir.
Coconut, dried: Can be sweetened or unsweetened. In flakes, shreds or chunks. Dessicated is a form of dried coconut.
Coconut, cream of: Sweetened coconut product mainly used in mixed drinks.
Coconut milk, canned: Thick product, in regular and reduced-fat (light) versions.
Coconut milk, refrigerated: Coconut cream plus water. May be fortified with calcium and vitamins; available sweetened, unsweetened, flavored.
Coconut oil: Coconut meat is pressed to produce the fat. Good for frying, sauteing.
Coconut spreads: Coconut oil is the primary ingredient; may contain other oils.
BRAZILIAN COCONUT-RICE PUDDING
Prep: 15 minutes; cook: 35 minutes; makes: 8 servings; adapted from Steven Raichlens Healthy Latin Cooking (Rodale Press).
1/2 cup golden or dark raisins
1/4 cup light rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract plus 1/4 cup water
3 cups water
1 cup arborio rice, rinsed until water runs clear
1 stick cinnamon, 3 inches long
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sweetened condensed skim milk
1 cup light coconut milk
2 to 4 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon each: grated orange zest, grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup toasted shredded unsweetened dried coconut
Combine raisins and rum (or rum extract and water) in a small bowl; let soak, 15 minutes. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine water, rice, cinnamon stick and vanilla. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low; simmer, covered, until rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 20 minutes.
Stir in condensed and coconut milks. Add raisins and their liquid. Simmer, covered, until rice is very soft, 10 minutes. Stir in brown sugar, citrus zests and salt. Cook, 5 minutes. Add more sugar if desired. Cool pudding to room temperature. Discard cinnamon stick. Spoon into serving bowls or martini glasses. Refrigerate until cold. To serve, garnish with toasted coconut.
Nutrition per serving: 309 calories, 6 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 58 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 68 mg sodium, 1 g fiber