Coconuts in Indonesian Cuisine
Coconuts being sold, and shredded in Indonesian market
It has been said that coconuts are one of the worlds two most popular flavors, the other being chocolate. If this is true, I wouldn't be surprised, as I love it! The coconut is a vital part of Southeastern Asia's cuisine. In Indonesia, chocolate is more of a luxury, but coconuts are a necessity, often used even daily. Often a village's rice fields will have coconut trees that shade them in places.
Coconut trees bear many flowers each month. Each nut that comes from them takes about ten months to become ripe enough for picking. Often they will use every part of the coconut for something , even its fibrous "bark" can be used for mats, ropes, scrubbers for pots and pans, and brushes, etc. Pans and woks can be scrubbed very clean with these items. It is said that some use the fibers for smoking meat and fish. You can burn coconuts in their shells, and end up with a smokey taste even to the coconut milk. The hard brown inner shells, can be turned into ladles and small bowls with handles, and other small utensils.
Indonesian Coconut Pudding
The young green coconuts are called kelapa muda. They are picked for their water, and very tender flesh. The flesh of the coconuts is scraped out, and made into drinks, ice cream or is used as ingredients in soups. If you go shopping in an Indonesian market, you will find an abundance of coconuts. They are even available at all stages of development, because cooks use them at different stages for different recipes or whatever the cook has in mind.
Coconuts at their middle stage of development are called kelapa setengah tua, and their outer skin is getting brown. The inside flesh is still somewhat soft, and can be grated. This is often used to coat different kinds of rice flour cakes. These cakes are called klepon, and are served with pisang goreng. It is also an ingredient used for many other dishes.
The more mature coconuts are called kelapa tua. In the west, we have benefitted from these for some time, and can find them in our markets in many places. These are the best source for the coconut milk many like, or santen as they call it in Indonesia. One great way to open up a coconut, is to put it in a plastic bag, and hit it all over and from every angle with a blunt instument. A blunt, strong kitchen tool like the back of a meat cleaver may work well. The nut will eventually give way, and break open. Sometimes, you can work on it, until the shell breaks from the kernel, and can peel away the brown rind. See below, for some ideas for what to do at this point.
Look at this monkey helping them get coconuts.
Ways of using coconut
One thing you can do in Indonesian cuisine, is to use the grated coconut as a garnish, which is great in itself. Some use it in sweet cakes or fried bananas which are called pisang goreng. Others, use it to make ice cream or what they call a coconut relish, also known as sambal kelapa. If you are going to do any of the above ideas, you need to remove the outer brown layers of coconut, and take out the white flesh with with a sharp knife, or something like a potato peeler. If you are making coconut milk, or santen, you don't need to discard the brown rind because the color will not affect the dish.
If coconut milk is made, it will store for about 48 hours or less. Often they find a thick cream on the top, but it can simply be stirred back into the liquid.
Shredded coconut can be used for all kinds of dishes. I love shredded coconut, and am always open to new recipes.
In this part of the world, the most common ways of preparing food is by steaming, simmering, grilling, and making stews. The stews are often made with coconut milk, and rather popular. In many meals, the final preparations often include adding coconut milk. It is an essential ingredient in cooking. It is also a great thickener for many sauces.