Chasing the Monkey Tails
I have been home again on Phuket Island for a few days now but still haven’t gotten used to the weather yet. Not that I want to complain about 94°F weather that feels like 104° F because of the humidity. I always love my visits with family and the foods here are truly exquisite.
While allowing myself to acclimate to the weather by drinking cool coconut water, I pulled out a lot of my notes, pictures and videos from my previous trip to Surathani. I was searching for information about a monkey school in Southern Thailand where monkeys learn how to pick coconuts from the coconut trees. My video took place at the monkey school.
Before leaving Seattle, I had been enjoying cooking with all forms of coconut: spicy-lime coconut chips, green or red curry with coconut milk, cucumber salad with coconut water vinegar and stir-fried fresh grated coconut with Phuket curry paste. Perhaps today is an appropriate time to learn about coconuts. What is a coconut anyway?
Before I answer this question, I want to first share some of the highlights of my trip to Surathani, a province in Southern Thailand that is famous as the land of a million coconut trees. I was lucky to have my brother as my tour guide taking me to all the famous Thai food restaurants and important sites along the way. He is a professional tour guide and an expert on the Southern region. Most importantly we had a good time visiting the monkey school. Everyone was so warm and agreed to give me information and be part of the video taping, which you will see below. Thank you for P’ Paew, the owner of Kadaejae Monkey School and brother Sumit for the insight and patience. I had so much fun “Sanuk.”
When you start Thai cooking at home, you will encounter a lot of terms and types of coconut, so I think it is a good idea to start at the beginning with what is a coconut? In short, it is a seed, a fruit and a nut (in the botanical sense) What part of the coconut is used in cooking? In my Thai kitchen I cook with palm sugar which is made from the sap of the coconut flower. I use the heart of a coconut palm, which is nice and crunchy, in Sour Curry with Fish, and the heart of coconut palm (Gaeng Som Pla khab Yod Maprow). I also use coconut water vinegar, coconut milk, coconut cream, young coconut with coconut water and grated fresh and dry coconut—to name a few.
So here is a quick lesson on a coconut: coconut cream, coconut milk and coconut water.
When you remove the coconut husk (mesocarp) from a whole coconut, you can see the coconut shell (endocarp). After cracking the coconut shell, you get to the natural water inside the nut and this is called coconut water. The white meaty part inside the shell is the coconut meat (endosperm). Grating a chunk of white of coconut meat with a coconut grater gives you fresh wet grated coconut. To extract coconut milk, add a cup of water to 2 cups fresh grated coconut, then squeeze out the white milky liquid; this is concentrated coconut milk. (Thai call this the “head” of coconut milk). Add 1/2 cup water to the used grated coconut to extract a thin coconut milk (Thai call this the “tail” of coconut milk). Let the coconut milk sit, and a fat creamy layer will form on the top; this is the coconut cream.
Back to the coconut water. Coconut water occurs naturally and has nothing to do with the process of making coconut milk. Nature provides the coconut meat and water as nutrients for shoots to grow near the three germination pores, or “eyes,” on the coconut. This coconut water inside the coconut shell is very good for the coconut plant, but it is also very good for you. It is full of vitamins and minerals. It is especially high in potassium and electrolytes, and has a neutral ph level. I strongly recommend that tourists traveling to paradise island drink this natural drink to help with rehydration, and it has the added benefit of being a sterile juice inside the shell.
I have over 20 recipes on this blog that use coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water vinegar and palm (coconut) sugar.
I hope this is a good start and I hope that my next trip to Thailand I will bring more inspired recipes to share with you.
- Coconut milk crisis as supermarkets run dry (telegraph.co.uk)
- Tofu Thai red curry with coconut steamed rice (madewithloveuk.wordpress.com)
- ~Stingray Curry Stew with Green Perilla Recipe~ (ilovethaicooking.wordpress.com)