Coconuts get fresh and juicy

Li Anlan
From delicious soup to refreshing ice cream, coconuts can be that special ingredient to take your enjoyment to the next level.
Li Anlan
SSI ļʱ

Coconuts can be the answer to many questions.

Looking for a thirst-quenching, high-electrolyte beverage? The low-calorie coconut water from young coconuts can supplement natural sugars, vitamins and minerals after you’ve been sweating outdoors. It’s especially rich in the potassium that’s vital to balance fluids and mineral levels in the body.

Adding coconut milk in stews not only makes the soup or sauce much richer and denser, but also brings a unique, light fragrance to balance the flavor.

And if you are searching for delicious soup recipes, a light option is Chinese-style coconut chicken soup made by stewing fresh chicken in coconut water with goji berries, jujubes and water chestnuts, while Thai-style uses the much richer milk of the coconut and strong herbs and seasonings such as lemongrass, lemon leaves, ginger, fish sauce and spicy chili to make a creamy and spicy soup.

Coconut can be incorporated in many dishes. It goes well with so many things and you can find fresh coconuts of different ages in the market throughout the year that suit the right recipes.

Dessert making is where the coconut really shines as the star. Fresh coconut itself doesn’t have a distinct acidic or sweet flavor, the coconut water is lightly sweet and plain coconut flesh also has a mild sweetness, which makes it great to use with a variety of more flavorful ingredients.

Coconuts get fresh and juicy

Coconut ice cream

Chinese people love soupy desserts and sweet soups like red bean soup or glutinous rice balls served in jiuniang (sweet fermented glutinous rice) soup. With coconut, a Hainan classic known as qingbuliang is a must-try for fans of coconut.

The name qingbuliang translates as “fresh, nourishing and cool,” and that’s the exact feeling you can get after eating the dessert.

This dish uses freshly pressed coconut juice as a base, then mix in a variety of cooked beans, taro, pearl barley, fruit and even ice cream to complete a sweet, cool soup. The beans are usually quite sweet as sugar is added in the cooking, and the taro must be soft. Fruits on the sour side can be added to balance the sweetness, but generally the dessert has a light taste.

There are two crucial ingredients in making an ideal bowl of qingbuliang: crispy jujube chips and dongguayi, which are traditional, semi-transparent, al-dente starch balls made of potato flour or tapioca flour that resemble the appearance of winter gourds. They’re similar to the better-known taro tapioca balls and some shops would use the latter as a replacement.

Qingbuliang is a local snack in Hainan where there’s an abundance of coconuts and a need for cooling treats in the tropical climate. You can find qingbuliang shops in Shanghai and they also do delivery via popular delivery platforms. A bowl of classic qingbuliang without fruit or ice cream costs 20 to 30 yuan (US$2.8-4.3).

Coconuts get fresh and juicy

Qingbuliang is a chilled coconut dessert soup.

If you are shopping for coconut juice, which is made by blending coconut flesh with water and then filtering out the solid residue, almost all the packaged products contain added sugar or sweeteners, and it’s important to read the labels and nutritional information.

Coconut juice is different from the pure coconut milk that’s normally used in baking or cooking, the latter is a condensed and concentrated product that contains little water.

You can make coconut milk from scratch to avoid additives, just blend the water and flesh of the coconuts and pour it through a sieve. The leftover coconut flesh can be baked to make coconut shreds for use in baking and various desserts.

Coconut flesh and the juice or milk made with coconut flesh contain quite an amount of fat, so it’s not recommended to consume large quantities at once. A pack of pure coconut milk can contain 15 to 25 percent fat. Low-fat coconut milk is available.

Coconuts get fresh and juicy

Coconut milk

Coconut bowls, essentially trendy smoothie bowls but served in empty coconut shells, have been a hit in Shanghai since SmoothieBowl started to sell its beautiful cocobowls at the intersection of Wukang Road and Hunan Road. It is one of the hottest eateries in Shanghai and a must on many tourists’ to-eat lists.

The first thing to do after getting a summery dessert from SmoothieBowl is to snap a shot of holding the beautiful coconut bowl with the intersection as the backdrop. If you are strolling around the neighborhood, you can spot many people holding their chic cocobowls, though it’s not an easy food to eat while walking as the smoothie is quite runny and it can get messy.

The cocobowls are priced at 49 yuan each. The acai flavor made of acai fruit powder, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, banana and yoghurt and topped with fresh fruits and coconut chips is the most popular. The yellow cocobowl consists of yellow colored tropical fruits — mango, pineapple and passion fruit.

Theoretically, the flesh of the coconut can also be scraped off and eaten as a snack. But the shop provides only small wooden spoons that aren’t able to get the harder flesh. You can of course take the empty coconut bowl home and make use of the flesh.

The lines are still long despite the unbearable heat and sunshine, though it’s much shorter than the time it took when it first became famous.

Though most people very much enjoy the cocobowls, there were comments about how little coconut flavor is infused in the bowl and that it was just a fancier bowl for a higher price. The portion size is also quite small.

The shop also sells different coconut water and coconut milk beverages, like adding chia seeds in coconut water to create a superfood drink.

Coconuts get fresh and juicy

Coconuts can be used as a bowl to serve colorful smoothie with fresh fruits.

Coconut bowls are easy to duplicate at home, requiring only a shopping trip for fresh fruits and a blender to make the smoothie. The most difficult step is to open up the top of the coconut, and it may require hammer, screwdriver and the back of a cleaver.

Coconut balls are classic, very sweet Chinese snacks. They’re almost soft and moist coconut cookies made of coconut shreds, milk, egg, sugar, flour and butter. Many traditional Chinese bakeries in Shanghai sell fresh coconut balls and they are best served with tea or black coffee to neutralize the sweetness.

Coconut pudding served in whole coconut shell is another popular snack. It uses matured coconuts like the ones used in coconut bowls and is filled with a soft, sweet coconut pudding. A small pack of toasted coconut shreds is included in the pudding package, which is very aromatic and crispy.

After enjoying the pudding, you can scrape off the coconut flesh and eat it as a snack. But because most coconut pudding products are sold in packaged form with a longer shelf life, it’s not as fresh as newly opened coconuts.

And when you are done with the coconuts, remember the shell of the coconut is residual waste in Shanghai’s new garbage sorting system.

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