Food fads are temporary, coconut chutney is forever
In this excerpt from Vasudha Rai’s ‘Glow’, we learn why coconuts transcend seasons and can be eaten all year round
In the Ayurvedic tradition, the coconut tree is called kalpavriksha, or a tree that fulfils all wishes. If you think about it, you realize that each and every part of the coconut is useful. It gives us refreshing water and its flesh is packed with vitamins and minerals. The old fruit gives us oil, its outer shell is used to make artefacts, while the husk is used as compost and also stuffed into bedding.
Traditionally we know that mature coconuts (from which the oil is extracted) should be consumed in moderation. But people mostly drink coconut oil that is extracted from the mature fruit. I believe that findings from modern science must be viewed parallelly with the knowledge from our ancestors. In Ayurveda the tender (young) and middle-aged coconuts are considered the best for consumption because they are healing and nourishing for the body. Once the coconut becomes old it’s heavy to digest. Old coconut is also heating (ideal for winter), while the young fruit is cooling (perfect for summer). While a mature, hard nut has its benefits, it must be consumed in small quantities. There is also no reference in Ayurveda that suggests that plain oil should be consumed. It’s better to cook with coconut oil because it will enhance the quality of food, making it easy for the body to assimilate and digest it.
Coconuts are both sattvic (balanced) and alkaline. Therefore they keep the mind calm and centred. Coconut water is cooling and is a natural diuretic, so it flushes out bacteria and therefore helps to cure urinary infections. The middle-aged coconut in particular builds up all seven dhatus in the body (plasma, blood, muscles, fat, marrow, bone, reproductive fluid).
The primary taste of coconut is sweet, and in Ayurveda this is the most soothing and nourishing taste. Coconuts increase kapha in the body; therefore they can definitely cause weight gain if eaten in excess. However, kapha is also responsible for immunity and strength, and in giving us luminous skin and hair. So they’re ideal for those who want to increase their vitality.
Coconut is good for all seasons as it pacifies vata (dryness in winter) and pitta (heat in summer). The only rule is that just like ghee it must be eaten with warm food and drink because it is a saturated fat.
Your diet must consist of 20 per cent fat, which translates into 8–9 teaspoons of oil in a day. From this number, keep 2 teaspoons for coconut oil, and the rest for other fats because more variety will give you a larger range of nutrients.
Coconut oil is said to improve hair quality and strength with its keshya properties. It also helps improve the complexion. While most people can apply this oil, some can be allergic to it. This is because it is comedogenic—can clog pores. When I apply and leave it on the skin I get rashes, but it works very well on my hair. Even when I add coconut oil and milk to food, it gives me a sense of nourishment and satiation.
A good way to test it would be to apply the oil on the side of your neck. If, after a few hours, the skin becomes bumpy or red, it’s not to be applied. But that doesn’t mean that beauty products containing coconut oil will cause a reaction too. The oil is stabilized in cosmetics and therefore works very differently on the skin. Drinking coconut water clarifies the skin—consume it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, especially during summer.
Mom’s Nourishing Coconut Hair Oil
50 ml virgin coconut oil
5–6 fresh red hibiscus flowers or 1 tablespoon hibiscus powder
10–15 curry leaves
2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
2 teaspoons brahmi powder
A fistful of dried amla
Heat the virgin coconut oil.
Once the oil is hot, add the hibiscus flowers, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, brahmi powder and dried amla.
Let it boil for 2 minutes and switch it off.
Once cool, store in a glass jar. No need to strain. This oil improves hair strength, darkens the colour, prevents greying and adds shine.
Amma’s Coconut Chutney
Half cup roasted chana dal
2–3 green chillies
1 teaspoon sliced ginger
1 tablespoon coconut or any other cold-pressed cooking oil
Half teaspoon mustard seeds
Half teaspoon chana dal
Half teaspoon broken white lentils (urad dal)
10 curry leaves
2 gondu round chillies or whole red chillies
Salt to taste
Grate a cup of coconut after removing the dark skin.
Grind it with the roasted chana dal, green chillies, sliced ginger, a cup of water and salt to taste.
Then heat the oil. When it’s hot, add the mustard seeds, chana dal, urad dal, curry leaves and gondu round chillies.
When it sputters, pour into the paste. Refrigerate till you serve
Grate 1 coconut (it should give you about 2½–3 cups of grated flesh).
If you’re using pre-shredded coconut chips, soak them in warm water for about 2 hours.
Put the coconut meat, a cinnamon stick (optional) and 1½ cups of water into a blender and blend for about 3–5 minutes.
Sieve in a cheesecloth or a fine sieve. This is your first press, which is great to make coconut yoghurt, coconut cream and generally to dribble on to a toast.
Then put the leftover meat into the blender again with 1½ cups of water and blend for about 1–2 minutes.
Sieve again. This is your second press, which is a great alternative for milk in your smoothies, tea, coffee, turmeric latte or cereal.
Then put the leftover meat into the blender again with 1 cup of water. Blend for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Sieve again. This is your third press, which can be used in curries, sticky rice or as a salad dressing.
Note: Cinnamon and coconut are a match made in heaven. The former really brings out the latter’s natural sweetness. Cinnamon is also a great insulin regulator and this prevents storage of fat and improves metabolism.
Edited excerpt from ‘Glow: Indian Foods, Recipes and Rituals for Beauty, Inside and Out’ with permission of Penguin Random House India.
FIRST PUBLISHED13.09.2020 | 09:00 AM IST