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Coconut: more than just a fruit

The coconut palm is celebrated for its versatility. In some cultures, it is venerated as the “tree of life” for its varied functionality as almost every part of the tree can be used. While some Europeans branded the coconut as a lazy man’s crop during the colonial period, its cultivation provides a range of economic and social benefits. An unripe coconut contains refreshing water but as it ripens, the liquid reduces and a jelly-like layer emerges. Beyond just consumption, coconuts also provide coir, a fibre extracted from its husk which can be used to make rope, mats and household items.

Although called “coconut,” it is botanically classified as a drupe, a fruit with a hard covering that encloses a seed. But in reality, it sits somewhere between a fruit, seed and nut and we see that transition in the cake, salad and curry recipes below. Though its origins are subject to debate, there is some evidence that suggests it is native to Malesia, a region that includes Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, and several Pacific Island groups.

In India, coconuts form a staple part of local cuisines, particularly in southern regions of the country. Coconut chutney, which uses freshly grated coconut, is served as a condiment and is often paired with dosas, idlis and other rice dishes. Aside from its use in savoury dishes, it also features in desserts like the famous Bebinca, a layered Goan delicacy. Toddy, an alcoholic beverage consumed predominantly in Kerala, uses sap extracted from a coconut palm tree which is then fermented.

Before electric graters were introduced, grating coconuts was a laborious process where a cut coconut was pressed to a blade and then rotated with the application of pressure. Despite advancements in technology, some households still opt to use manual graters, perhaps as a way to keep the tradition going.

Coconut Cake by Rucha Vibhute

“This cake is my take on a very special traditional Maharashtrian recipe. This version of coconut cake is my take on Ukdiche Modak, a Maharashtrian sweet dumpling usually made during the Ganapati festival”

List of ingredients

For 5 people
Time: 90 minutes

200 gm All purpose flour (you can even use coconut flour)
400 gm Fresh coconut (grated)
50 ml Coconut oil (you can even use butter instead)
250 gm Jaggery (you can use sugar instead, although the results may differ)
25 gm Poppy seed (you can use sesame seeds or groundnuts instead)
100 gm Mixed dry fruits (as per your preference)
2 tablespoon Sour curd
1 teaspoon Baking powder
½ teaspoon Baking soda
Pinch of Salt
½ teaspoon Cardamom powder


Preheat the oven for 20 minutes.

Prepare the baking try by applying some butter and sprinkle some all purpose flour.

Mix curd, coconut oil, 200 gm of jaggery and 300 gm of grated coconut in a mixing bowl. Mix all the ingredients until the jaggery is mixed well and there are no lumps.

To this mixture, add all purpose flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and half of the mixed dry fruits.

Pour the mixture into the baking pan and bake it for 25 minutes at 180 degrees.

For garnish:
In a pan, mix the remaining coconut, jaggery, cardamom powder and poppy seeds.

Let this mixture cook on medium flame for 10 minutes. Keep stirring to avoid any lumps.

Once it thickens and the consistency of the mixture changes, turn off the heat and add the remaining dry fruits and mix well.

Once the cake is baked and cooled down, take it off from the baking tray and cut it in half.

Spread a thin layer of the garnishing mix in the middle and on top of the cake.

Note: If you don’t feel like baking you can use the garnish as a filling and make sweet dumplings.

Cucumber & Coconut Salad by Radhika Poddar

“You can never go wrong with coconut, peanuts and cucumber. Together, they are even better!”

List of ingredients

For 2 people
Time: 15 minutes

2 English Cucumber (diced)
12-15 Water chestnut (peeled and cut into halves)
½ Coconut (thinly sliced)
Crushed roasted peanuts
Mint leaves

To taste:
Lime juice


Mix the diced cucumber, water chestnut and coconut.

Add lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and a few crushed roasted peanuts. Mix well.

Top with crushed roasted peanuts and mint leaves.

Breast Pepper Water by Kamini Sawhney

“The beautiful coconut scraper from the MAP collection sits on a shelf in my office and reminds me of an ingredient that I find enhances the flavour of most food, whether it is scraped, ground or liquidised – fresh coconut. It also reminds me of Arputhadam, our help who cared for us all through our childhood and refined our palates through some really innovative cooking. I share a recipe that she learnt from her husband who served as a butler at an Anglo-Indian household during the last days of the British Raj in India. Breast pepper water, as she described it, has been our comfort food and a family favourite whenever we come together.”

List of ingredients

For 4 people
Time: 30 minutes

½ kg Mutton breast (usually the ribs but if you prefer more meat you can use chops)
½ teaspoon Cumin (jeera) seeds
2 inch stick of Cinnamon
1 large Onion (sliced)
2 Green chillies (slit)
1 large Tomato (chopped in small pieces)
1 teaspoon Ginger/garlic paste
1 handful of Coriander leaves (chopped)
1 handful of Curry leaves
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Peppercorns
¼ teaspoon Turmeric
½ teaspoon Chilli powder
1 Coconut (grated) (First extract the thick coconut milk and then take out a second thinner extract. An easy option would be readymade coconut milk)


Boil the mutton in a pressure cooker with the cinnamon, peppercorns, and salt, adding about 2 cups of water. Set aside.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and toss the jeera in.

As the jeera splutters, add the onion and brown it.

Now add the ginger/garlic paste, green chillies, curry leaves and fry for a bit.

It is now time to add the tomatoes and brown the masala well. Then drop in the turmeric and chilli powder and fry a bit more.

Add the mutton with the water it has been cooked in, along with the thin coconut milk and let it simmer for about 5 – 7 minutes.

Finally, add the thick coconut milk and allow it to boil once and remove from the flame.

Drop the chopped coriander leaves and keep it closed to absorb the flavours.

Heat through gently before serving but do not allow the gravy to boil again. It should have a soupy consistency.

This tastes delicious when served with rice.