• Coconut
If you don't fancy grappling with a whole fresh coconut, it's not surprising. In countries such as India and Thailand, where they are used daily, kitchens have special equipment for preparing them. For convenience, ready-prepared coconut milk, coconut cream, and compressed blocks of creamed coconut are available, as well as dried flaked and desiccated coconut.
The coconut is as versatile as any food gets, and can be used to make drinks, salads, curries, sauces, side dishes, cakes, desserts, breakfast cereals and sweetmeats. Chillies, fresh herbs, fruits, vegetables, chicken, white fish and of course chocolate are good matches.

In India, coconut is particularly popular in the south where the coconut palms grow in profusion and where the coconut cream and milk are used as a base for many traditional curries. Its delicate creaminess makes it a good partner for fish and vegetable curries as well as chicken and its also used for a coconut and green mango chutney.

Grated coconut flesh is often used as a garnish. Coconut oil is also available. Creamed coconut in a block should be grated, crumbled or diluted before using.

Did you know…
If you shake a fresh coconut and you can hear the coconut water splashing about inside it is more likely to be fresh. If not, the flesh will probably be dried out and tough.

To crack open a coconut, place it securely on a cloth or newspaper on the floor then hit it firmly with a hammer all the way round its centre. As soon as it starts to crack, put it over a bowl so you can pour out the coconut water. Break the coconut into smaller pieces to make the flesh easier to remove. To do this, slide a small sharp knife between the flesh and the tough outer shell and ease the flesh out.

The water inside the coconut is often confused with coconut milk, but the water is used mostly for drinking straight from the coconut. When coconut milk is called for in a recipe, this refers to the liquid made by grating the pure white flesh of the coconut, infusing it in boiling water, then squeezing it out to give a thick milk. The coconut cream is what rises to the top of the milk when it is cold.

Top tip
As coconut milk is affected by high heat it can curdle easily when cooked. To help prevent this, pour it in at the end of cooking rather than the beginning so it doesn’t overcook, also don’t let it boil for too long.