No matter what the dish, coconut gives foods a unique and delightful flavoring

September 06, 1992|By Desiree Vivea | Desiree Vivea,Copley News Service

Coconut flavors so many of our favorite desserts -- cookies, candies, pies, cakes, puddings. It is also a major ingredient in the dishes of many cuisines halfway around the world. Coconut many garnish an Indian curry, flavor a Polynesian seafood dish or form the basis of a spicy Thai soup.

Peak season for fresh, whole coconut runs from September through March, so if you love fresh coconut, now's the time to shop.

Look for coconuts that feel heavy for their size and listen for the slosh of liquid inside -- the more liquid, the better. Avoid those with no sloshy liquid sound (they're likely to be dried out) and those with moldy or wet "eyes."

An uncracked, whole coconut will stay fresh at room temperature (about 60 degrees is ideal) for up to two months. Once opened, cover coconut and refrigerate. It will stay fresh about one week. You may also submerge grated fresh coconut in its own liquid and freeze for later use.

To open your coconut easily, place whole, drained coconut in the freezer for about an hour. Then tap sharply with a hammer -- it should break cleanly into two pieces. Carefully use a knife to pry flesh from shell.

A medium-size coconut will yield 3 to 4 cups shredded coconut. If you buy packaged, processed coconut, a 4-ounce package of shredded or flaked coconut is equivalent to 1 1/3 cups.

Coconut has a unique and delightful flavor, but, like many especially tasty foods, it should be enjoyed in moderation. Coconut oil is an exception among vegetable fats -- it's even more saturated than dairy cream (palm oil is also highly saturated). Recipes in this column are tested in 625- to 700-watt microwave ovens.

Coconut chicken curry

Makes 4 or 5 servings.

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1 cup boiling water

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 (3-pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces

2 Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas

1/4 cup raisins

hot cooked rice for 4 or 5

1/2 cup salted red-skin peanuts (optional, for garnish)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional, for garnish)

Preparation time: 15 to 20 minutes.

Cooking time: 21 1/2 to 27 minutes (plus 5 minutes standing time).

Oven setting: HIGH (100 percent power).

Combine coconut and water in small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Drain liquid into 2-quart microwave-safe casserole (reserve coconut). Add onion and garlic to liquid. Microwave 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute, until onion is just soft.

Stir in cornstarch, curry powder, ginger, salt and pepper. Add chicken, positioning meatier pieces toward outside of dish. Spoon sauce over chicken, cover and microwave 10 minutes.

Rearrange chicken, then add reserved coconut, apples, frozen peas and raisins. Spoon sauce from bot

tom of dish over all. Cover and microwave 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until juices run clear and meat near bone is no longer pink.

Reposition chicken once, halfway through cooking time. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes before serving over hot cooked rice. Garnish, if desired, with red skin peanuts and chopped cilantro.

Easy coconut frosting

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Dash salt

Makes frosting for 2 (8- or 9-inch) cake layers or 1 9-by-13-inch cake.

Preparation time: 5 minutes.

Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

Oven setting: HIGH (100 percent power).

In 1-quart microwave-safe casserole, stir together milk and cornstarch until smooth. Add brown sugar and butter or margarine. Microwave 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every minute, until mixture bubbles.

Add coconut and nuts; stir well. Pour over cooled cake layers, spreading evenly with spatula.

Apple coco-nut oatmeal

Makes 2 servings.

2/3 cup rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 cup chopped apple

2 tablespoons flaked coconut

2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans

2 teaspoons honey or sugar

Dash salt

2 cups water

Preparation time: 5 minutes.

Cooking time: 8 to 11 minutes.

Oven setting: MEDIUM (50 percent power).

Combine all ingredients in 1-quart microwave-safe casserole. Stir well. Microwave 8 to 11 minutes, or until bubbly and thickened, stirring every 4 minutes. Let stand, covered, several minutes before serving with milk.

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