Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coco Frio

"Put the lime in the coconut and shake it all up..."

“Let’s go to the drive thru!”   A drive thru in Huatulco? Sure, my favourite is next to the park in Santa Cruz. A pickup truck is usually parked under a shady tree, the truck bed loaded with a couple of big plastic tubs full of ice and coconuts, a tree stump and two machete-wielding vendors.
I drive up beside the truck, open the window, and place my order, “coco frio por favor” .
A couple of machete swipes across the top reveals the milky white flesh, a flick of the sharp tip nicks a flap off the glistening white meat , a straw is popped in and  I offer 15 pesos out my driver window. My hands grasp the fat green nut, and I take the first big thirsty gulp. Delicious. Muy rico. 
Of course, there is competition, other drive thrus around town, one on Bugambilia past the zocalo as you head with the traffic toward Papaloapan, another on the corner of Carrizal and Guamachil (kitty -corner to Plaza Madero). Here, an old gentleman with a street cart will slash open the coconut, pour off the juice into a baggie, poke a straw through the knot at the top, then smack the coconut open and with a hooked knife drags out wide ribbons of soft young coconut meat. He loads those strips into a bag as well, and to order, adds a squeeze of lime, some tajin or valentina sauce and you enjoy a sweet and savory snack along with your refreshing baggie of coconut water.
Even the remote beaches often have a coco frio stand waiting for thirsty snorkelers, the coconuts and rum and vodka and ice delivered early in the day by panga.  Muy muy rico.
No image is more iconic, nothing shouts the tropics, paradise, hot sun and beaches more than a coconut. And although imbibing coconut water right from the nut, with or without the frilly umbrella might seem like a silly tourist thing, it is a lot more than a photo op.
Coconuts are the economic and nutritional mainstay of about a third of the world’s population, and with good reason. The coconut provides a nutritious source of meat, juice, milk, and oil. Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  It is completely antiseptic - its husk is the original “green” recyclable container.  Once maligned as a dangerous saturated fat in traditional medicine, coconut oil has long been considered a cure for most illnesses in Pacific and Asian cultures.  Modern research has revealed that the oil contains a chemical substance that actually helps to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease.
According to the Coconut Research Center, , “In traditional medicine around the world coconut is used to treat a wide variety of health problems including the following: abscesses, asthma, baldness, bronchitis, bruises, burns, colds, constipation, cough, dropsy, dysentery, earache, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhea, irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones, lice, malnutrition, nausea, rash, scabies, scurvy, skin infections, sore throat, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, tumors, typhoid, ulcers, upset stomach, weakness, and wounds.”

Coconut water is riding a wave of popularity created by natural food consumers and athletes. The wave seems to be crazy expensive when you head out of Mexico and step into Whole Foods for a bit of restorative. But such is the price of being a believer!
How did I become a believer? Well, as it happens sometimes in the tropics, I got a bug. An 8 year old boy and I, out of a group of thirty people, who all ate the same food, were the only ones to become sick. My malaise had lingered for a month, endured two rounds of antibiotics, when finally a friend said, “What? You’re not drinking coconut???” He immediately sent over a fresh coco and I drank it. After the second morning of coco water, the symptoms abated, and soon afterwards I was cured, but hooked!
My Indian friend drank one a day while pregnant and delivered beautiful, healthy babies. We have found it to be effective for kidney stones, fatigue, heat stroke, high blood pressure and various other complaints, including feeling a little “blue”.
Whether you walk by, swim up, or drive thru, it is impossible to be sad when you’re full of happy coco water. And you never know, there might be some un-scientific benefits, based on folklore and the Harry Belafonte song, Coconut Woman.
Coco got a lotta iron, four for five
Make you strong like a lion, four for five!

I’ve been told that I make a pretty good coconut cream pie. Working with local ingredients takes a bit of experimentation, and even what I consider a failed attempt has been delicious.
 I like to grate and toast my own coconut – you will need a mature coconut, with a brown hairy husk, not the young coconut with the fat green husk. The coconut has 3 eyes, and looks a bit like a monkey face. Poke through one of the eyes and pour off the liquid. Holding the coconut in your hand, crack it with the blunt side of a cleaver between the eyes and it should crack in two. Failing that, put it into a sturdy plastic grocery bag, tie the top and thwack it on a concrete step. Continue whacking until the coconut is broken into smaller pieces and the flesh comes away from the shell.
Peel the brown skin off the flesh and grate coarsely. Toast on a baking pan for about 5 minutes at 350 F or 180 C.  If you don’t use it all, it freezes very well.
I like to use a crumb crust for a coconut cream pie, mostly because I like to add other ingredients to the cookie crumbs. Most crumb crusts are made from graham crackers, but they are not available here, although ready-to-use crusts are. I use Maria cookies (galletas) for the crust, and a little less sugar.  

Coconut Cream Pie
About 1 1/2 cups crushed Marias
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup toasted coconut (chopped finely or the crust is difficult to serve)
¼ cup chopped nuts (macadamias are best)
½ cup melted butter
Mix together and pat into a 9 inch pie shell. Bake at 375F or 190 C for about 7-10 minutes. Let cool. At this stage, I sometimes drizzle melted chocolate over the crust.
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/8 tsp salt
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 ½ cups half and half   
1 cup of milk (Substitute the reserved coconut milk for any or all of the liquid in this recipe. The greater the amount of coconut, the more intense the coconut flavour)
1 tsp vanilla
Combine the dry ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl, add all the liquid ingredients, mix well and whisk into the dry ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Cook for another minute, remove from the heat, let cool. Spoon into the pie shell and refrigerate until serving (about 4 hours).
Top with whipped cream and toasted coconut.

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