Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How Many Ways Can You Use a Coconut?

For me, coconut trees evoke the memory of the street I grew up on- a quiet place lined with palm trees rising tall in front of the modest villas. The gardens where these trees grew were well-tended, layered with the colours and smells of bougainvillea, morning glory, frangipani, jasmine, periwinkle, Rangoon creeper and other plants. Yet, I was living in no tropical paradise.

Beyond the soothing whispers of the palms, beyond the street security barrier manned by a burly chowkidar, there was always the sheer press of Karachi’s teeming crowds, ethnic clashes, political instability, the bang and shatter of gunfire, regular news of bombs and bodies dumped in bags. Although we were cocooned in relative peace, the times were tainted with confusion, turbulence and often fear, as indeed they are today. In those days, the coconut palms dotting the violent landscape of my city came to signify a particularly defiant strain of grace and beauty for me.

But it was when I moved out of Karachi that the versatile coconut itself started to feature more and more in my diet. Traditional Pakistani cuisine does not use much coconut. The most we ever got to eat the nut was a few fresh slices sold by men on traffic lights or from street carts.

These days, I enjoy everything coconut- coconut water, coconut milk in curries and smoothies, coconut bread, coconut chutney, coconut oil or just a bite of fresh coconut. I use coco peat made from the husk, for my plants. I have used coconut oil for my hair since I was a little girl. I even own spoons made out of coconut shells that chef Vijay gave me as a present after a culinary lesson in a country kitchen outside Colombo. One day, I may even have a few palms of my own…

The biggest dietary move for me has been using coconut oil instead of ‘vegetable oils’ for almost all my high-heat cooking. Not too long ago, coconut oil was the villain of the fat debate. These days it’s certainly the darling of the nutritionists. However, I will leave the saturated/unsaturated fat debate aside and focus on a rule I have increasingly adopted- go for the least processed foods. And virgin, preferably organic coconut oil is just that. Plus I love the nutty flavor. Try it with lentils- cook any type with salt and turmeric and do a tadka or bhagar with sliced red onion, chopped garlic, dried red chilly and cumin seeds fried in some coconut oil. It adds a whole new dimension to a simple dish.

For fresh coconuts, I usually head to Lulu as they also scrape them for you in the store. But coconut meat goes off rather quickly, even in the fridge. In stepped the resourceful Sri Lankan lady who helps me around the house. From Satwa, she procured a simple coconut scraper for me for a grand total of Dhs 23. It does require some elbow grease I admit but fresh coconut scraped on my kitchen counter is well worth the work.

Coconut Rice with Nuts (serves 4)

This has to be one of my most favourite coconut recipes. It looks great and is big on flavours and textures. There's the light crunch of the toasted coconut, the bite of the cashews and peanuts and the brilliant yellow colour coming through from the turmeric. Try it with a simple curry of lentils or prawns.


Basmati rice, 2 cups soaked in water for an hour
Fresh coconut, grated, 1 cup
Coconut Oil 4 tbsp
Curry leaves, 10-12
Peanuts, 2 tbsp
Cashew nuts, 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds, 1 tsp
Turmeric, 1 tsp
Red chilli powder, 1/2 tsp
Salt, to taste


1- Boil rice until three quarters cooked. Drain in a colander and keep aside.
2- Heat coconut oil in a large frying pan.
3- Add nuts and fry until light golden.
4- Add curry leaves and mustard seeds.
5-When mustard seeds splutter, add fresh coconut, turmeric and chilli powder. Fry until a nutty aroma comes out.
6- Add salt, mix well and remove from heat.
7- In a large pot, layer half the rice. Spread the coconut mix on top and cover with the rest of the rice.
8- Cover pot with a tight fitting lid and cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Check to see steam is forming inside the pot.
9- Turn heat to lowest setting, on your smallest ring and let cook for 20 minutes.
10- Turn off heat and allow the rice to rest for 5 minutes.
11- Open lid and stir the rice with a fork to prevent lumps from forming.



  1. You have been missed & your interesting posts!
    I look forward to trying this mouthwatering recipe!

  2. Really interesting account and beautiful pictures. It's always a joy to visit your site Shumaila.

  3. My life wouldn't be complete without coconut,If I may say so.We call the coconut tree "The Wonder Tree" as nothing of it goes to waste.Luckily,I have a grocery close to my house which delivers freshly grated coconut here.

  4. I always love reading your posts Shumaila :) I agree with Farwin, the coconut tree is a wonder tree for us...we use everything from the roots up to the leaves. Roots, trunk and leaves are used in home building. The fruit eaten, of course. The coconut husk used as a floor shiner. The photograph of the field of coconut trees do remind me of home as well, of peaceful days out in the province / rural areas.

  5. Coconut are always delicious, and make you feel like you went on vacation with every bite.. YUM Yum Yum! Enjoyed reading your post and loved the pictures :)

  6. We south indians cannot live without coconut...it is used in our daily cookings, my Father in law owns many coconut trees and its always a treat to drink fresh coconut water whenever we visit India, the coconut rice looks yum...and gorgeous pics too.

  7. Where have you been Shumaila? We miss all your veggie posts. Remember you are my veggie guru, I canot plant anything for the life of me, but counting on you for my veg and herb garden :)

  8. Hey! You should go on YaDig and write your reviews on the places you've eaten at in the UAE. You could win 35,000AED+ in prizes this Ramadan for reviewing businesses on YaDig! Local service companies, spas, gyms, hotels, night clubs, coffee shops and more!! It's pretty cool you should check it out and let all your friends know too! http://www.yadig.com/competition.aspx

  9. I love your blog a refreshing change from the usual blog scene of Dubai. I am now inspired to grow a few things off my balcony fingers crossed

  10. Dubai Desert Safari very informative and nice blog. thanks for sharing.

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  13. Absolutely delicious basmati rice,classic recipe..looks divine.