If we were to draw up a list of food items that conjure up exotic images of tropical shorelines and paradise sands, it is highly likely that the coconut would come in at number one. Throughout the regions of South India, swaying coconut palms stand sentinel along the golden shores as well as further inland. All parts of the coconut palm are prized – from the sticky sap that’s fermented to form feni, the famous alcoholic spirit of Goa, to the palm fronds that are used to create a range of building materials, fishing nets and handicrafts.
But for those of us that have fallen in love with the delectable cuisine of India, we might most appreciate the coconut for its appearance in a range of delicious dishes, desserts and drinks – particularly those that feature heavily on the South Indian menu. Whether it is the grated flesh or the coconut milk that is used in a recipe, there is no mistaking the luxurious and naturally sweet taste of the exotic that a coconut lends to any dish.
Coconut milk is particularly well suited to that classic Indian dish – curry. It blends well with a variety of spices and its mild and creamy flavour helps balance out those chillies that the southern states prize so highly. Here are a few of the best Indian coconut curries:
- Meen Curry
This dish is also known as Keralan Fish Curry and is one of the most popular recipes of the state. Juicy chunks of firm, white fish are fried in a spiced masala paste created from garlic, shallots, chilli powder, turmeric, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Coconut milk, fresh tomatoes and chopped green chillies bulk out the rest of this flavoursome dish.
- Chicken xacuti
This famous dish is a firm favourite in Goa. It may not look like much but the explosion of flavours that xacuti promises more than makes up for its lack of aesthetic value. This is definitely one for the spice-lovers as it involves liberal amounts of hot, dried, red chillies as well as a variety of other, more complex spices, such as white poppy seeds. Grated coconut adds a thick, silky texture to the gravy; this texture is accentuated by the addition of creamy cashew nuts.
This coconut curry actually originated from the northern states, those that experienced the greatest influence from the mighty Mughal Empire. In the kitchens of the maharajas, decadent sauces and rich flavours reigned supreme and the incorporation of coconut in these recipes was key to achieving this. Originally created using marinated lamb dressed in a spiced yoghurt sauce, pasanda in the present day tends to involve chicken or prawns, cooked in cream and coconut milk, garnished with almonds.
Even here in the UK, it appears we can’t get enough of coconut. It sneaks into everything from shampoo and shower gels to boxes of chocolate. But your best bet at sampling this taste of paradise in your favourite Indian dishes is to book a table at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants where you will find an array of curries, desserts and even cocktails that feature that magic, tropical ingredient.