“people where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…
“they don’t find it,” I answered.
“and yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
“of course,” I answered.
and the little prince added, “but eyes are blind. you have to look with the heart.”
I hardly see this anymore, but for the longest time, I always associated coconuts with its green and smooth shell. You can see them littering the beach like bowling balls during low tide, waiting for their sojourn across the ocean to a desert isle. If you were stuck on one of those isles, you had to be careful around the palm trees because they were likely to drop their fruits onto your head. However, you were very likely to have access to fresh coconut and that’s the least terrible fate I can possibly imagine if you happened to be abandoned to your own devices, but make sure you bring a machete!
To eat one of those fruits you had to use a sharp machete to hack away this protective waterproof layer – then with a precise cut, you take off the tip of the rock hard interior and stick in your straw. This was the best coconut water, but it could never compare to the fatty, milky flesh which was gelatinous and creamy in a way a plant should not be – so it would jump off of your spoon as fish out of water. I always reverted to slurping it out of the coconut shell or just groping at it with my little ravenous fingers. Of course now I hardly ever see fresh coconuts but I buy their water in plastic bottles and for the most part I find it unsatisfactory. One time I bought a whole coconut home and attempted to open it up with a cleaver because I didn’t have a machete. This hackery requires a bit more practice than I was prepared for… so of course I made a fibrous mess and a puddle of water. You can also use a power drill but that puts coconut shell into your water, and you’d hardly want a power-drill on a deserted island as it might sound a bit too civilized and optimistic.
In Vietnam we made all sorts of food with coconut in the form of pancakes, curries, and milkshakes. For desserts, there were always plenty of coconut milk to spoon on top of bananas or tapiocas or red beans. I typically avoided the dried candied coconut around New Year, but they were colorful and used up the harder bits of the flesh that you just can’t scoop out with a spoon. My absolute favorite were those frozen avocado smoothies with condensed milk and coconut milk. I think I’m pretty much a snob when it comes to coconut desserts and I know it has a lot to do with being a child of the tropics.
The first time I encountered coconut as a dessert in the states I practically had to throw it away. It came in one of those plastic packaging and had the consistency of dry new year candy held together by glue. I hated American desserts as a child: packaged cinnamon rolls, packaged powdered donuts, and packaged mooncakes – actually the later wasn’t so bad if you grilled it, but I think a few people might know what I mean when I say that Little Debbie was the worst person that ever happened to my school lunches.
I waited for many years before eating more coconuts in the states and I’m finally coming around. I’m trying to make a delicious thing out of my childhood love for the tropical fruit, but admittedly it happened when I was looking for a tropical boat for my overripe mangoes. I’m surrounded by mangoes and rhubarb right now. Literally every grocery store in San Francisco is trying to give away golden, over-ripened mangoes. I was on the verge of making this coconut, rhubarb-rose concoction into a salsa, but I got optimistic and decided to try something I saw on the internet a while back. I was pretty impressed by whoever came up with the idea of making tart shells out of coconut macaroons, but I didn’t have a tiny-muffin tin so I used my madeleine pans. If you’ve a madeleine-love, surely you hate the idea of using it only on one type of dessert?
I felt clever when I thought of making seashells out of coconut macaroons, but less clever when I actually went to do it because it was practically glued to the pan upon exiting the oven. I had to scrape it out in a very destructive manner, so please, I implore you – you must butter and flour your madeleine pans (maybe twice if you are diligent). Always do this, even if it is non-stick. If you don’t you will curse the coconut gods as I did…
To make rhubarb-rose, mango
3 stalks of rhubarb
1 mango, chopped
1 c sugar
1 c water
1 TB rose water
+ When cutting rhubarb, I chose a thin slice, but I you can go even thicker. The thicker the slices, the longer you should allow the rhubarb to marinade in the syrup.
+ To make a syrup, heat up water & sugar until the later dissolves. Then add rose water to taste and then pour immediately over the rhubarb. Refrigerate until ready to serve. I did it overnight. I should add that I did not cook the rhubarb because my mango was mushy-ripe and sweet. If you are using crunchy, not-sweet mango, I would suggest cooking the rhubarb in syrup until it is tender. That way, you can have it balanced of sweet, tart, crunchy, and tender fruits.
+ When ready, drain rhubarb from the syrup and preserve the liquid for cocktail, tea, or lemonade (If I have time, I’ll post photos here or on Instagram later this week of some ideas for the syrup). Chop up your mango and spoon a bit onto your shells (recipe below).
To make coconut shells (adapted from Martha Stewart)
There are a few vegan recipes for macaroons, but I have not tried them, so if you do, let me know if they work!
1 1/2 c shredded unsweetened coconut
2 large egg whites
1/4 c sugar
butter, flour for dusting
coconut oil, for frying (optional)
rhubarb-rose, mango (recipe above
+ Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
+ Whisk eggs and sugar together. Then, add coconut. Using a fork, mix the coconut until all of the flakes are sticky and hold themselves together when squeezed. Mix them a bit more than you think!
+ Next, butter and flour your madeleine pan, being sure to get butter into the crevices, esp if you are using smaller shells. I find that the larger shells came out much easier than the little ones – probably due to the crevices being easier to butter/flour. However, the little shells are bite-sized and is optimal for use as chips.
+ For large shells, you’ll need +/- 1TB of macaroon mix. Smaller shells are +/- 1.5 ts. If you are interested in deep frying the shells, you will need to be more aggressive with shaping them now. I used my fingers but you can also use a spoon. Press and distribute the macaroon mix into each shell. The harder you press, the more rigid the shell. They won’t fall apart if you press them firmly, but use extra pressure if you want to crisp them up with a dunk in hot oil.
+ Bake them until they are golden around the edges. This is about 5 minutes but you should keep a close eye on them as they cook quite rapidly. Wait until they are cool before removing them from the pan.
+ To fry, use coconut oil and not regular canola! I find the flavor of oil to be pretty crucial so I think you should splurge a bit here if you want to deep-fry them, which is a great way to crisp them up right before serving. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet you can make full shells with fillings and then deep fry the whole thing! Make sure you get your oil very hot, then just dunk in the shells and immediately remove them. If the oil is not hot, it will get soggy and very possibly fall apart.
+ To serve, whip up some cream using heavy cream or coconut milk. I tried the later at least 3 times without success bc I couldn’t find coconut milk without guar gum. If you can manage this, it will be divine, but it’s not an absolute. I used regular whipped cream and topped it with coconut sugar* and the rhubarb-mango bits.
*Coconut sugar is not environmentally friendly. I bought 1 package that I use very sparingly on a few things, but I try to be conservative when it comes to tropical extravagances…
ps: there are a few wonky things that happened when I updated to the latest WordPress… I don’t have time to deal with it today, but hopefully changes are coming next month!!