Tag Archives: coconut

A Crunchy Salad for Summer

kosambri or mung bean cucumber salad

Kosambri or mung bean cucumber salad

A couple of months ago, we took a friend who was visiting Seattle, to see some of the iconic sights. After a stroll along the Olympic Sculpture Gardens and navigating the crowds outside Pike Place market, we went inside to see the fishmongers.  It was there, opposite the famous fish stall and next to the flowers, that my hay fever allergy started. I’d never had allergies before so I thought I was coming down with something until the food allergies also kicked in. For the first time in my life, eating an apple made my lips swell up and my throat burn. And oatmeal (at least I think it is oatmeal) made me feel ill.

So my list of Things That I Cannot Eat grew from just dairy to include gluten, sugar, oatmeal, apple, pear, alcohol and some nuts among other things.  I’d already been on a cleanse so while it wasn’t as hard as you might think, I’d sometimes scratch my head in despair trying to figure out what to cook. This has all been a bit of a bizarre experience especially since I ate pretty healthy to begin with. The allergy test results will be back in a few weeks and I’m crossing my fingers that some of those foods will come off the list.

I’m taking this as a challenge and an exercise in creativity. While I miss some familiar things like rotis, naans and chapatis, I can still make ragi rottis. Instead of white rice, I’ve switched completely over to brown and red rices and don’t miss white rice at all. Desserts? I’d given up sweets a long time ago anyway. What do I miss? Granola. Oatmeal with banana. A glass of wine with dinner. Samosas. Pasta. Parmigiano. The simple things in life really.

BUT there are still so many things that I can eat. For instance, I had slices of avocado with freshly ground pepper, Thai style egg curry with Sri Lankan rice, and this lovely mung bean salad from South India for lunch today. While my food needs to nourish my body, it still needs to taste good to nourish my soul. And this lunch hit the spot. It is crunchy, full of flavor, filling, and allergen free!

It’s not quite summer yet but I’m sure most of you are eagerly awaiting it. I know I am. I can’t wait to trade in boots for sandals and to stop carrying around an umbrella. In the meantime, I’m declaring it summer at home.

So here’s my recipe for Kosambri or mung bean and cucumber salad from Karnataka. I’m sorry to say that there is no more salad left. The husband couldn’t get enough of it last night which made me very happy.

Print mung bean and cucumber salad recipe

Ingredients

The ratio of ingredients is approximate. Feel free to vary to your taste.

  • 1 cup mung beans, rinsed and soaked for 2 days or till it sprouts.
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 green chilis, sliced lengthwise (optional)
  • Salt to taste

Recipe

Mix together all the ingredients except for the salt and toss well. Add salt to taste just before serving so that the cucumber stays crunchy.

Notes

I used whole mung beans although the original version of this salad uses split mung beans. Sprouted beans have more nutrition and are easier to digest. Plus I love how mung beans look.

I defrosted frozen grated coconut. If you don’t have access to an Indian store, you can sometimes find dessicated unsweetened coconut flakes in regular grocery stores. Rehydrate the flakes in warm water for 10 minutes.

mung bean cucumber salad

Kosambri

Kosambri salad

kosambri

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Sweet and Spicy Pineapple Curry

spicy pineapple curry

Ah the memories! Pineapple Curry from Udupi.

By the time the train pulled into the station in Mangalore, it was past 9 in the evening. I’d already lugged my black suitcase from below the seat in front of me to the carriage door, ready to disembark in seconds. This was my first time traveling alone by train in India. After a 7 hour ride in a full carriage, and some uncomfortable stares from people silently questioning what a decent looking young woman was doing traveling by herself, I was more than ready to get off.

But no matter, I was in Mangalore! And I was looking forward to meeting my old neighbors and to a couple of days of world famous Udupi food. If you’ve ever been to a South Indian restaurant outside of India, there’s a 50% chance it is called Udupi after the seaside town that is some forty miles north of Mangalore on the west coast of India. The Tulu community, of this region spread to other parts of India especially around the time of WW1 and WW2 escaping food rations and disease. Wherever they went, the Tulus opened restaurants serving Udupi cuisine. Over time, the restaurants served the most popular dishes like Dosas (crispy lentil and rice crepes), Idlis (steamed rice cakes), and Vadas (savory doughnuts).

And so I came to this epicenter of good food with high expectations and lots of childhood memories. My cousin who studied in the area had introduced my brother and I to Udupi fish fry back in 1996 on one of our first trips back to India. So while I could always eat a good dosa or idli, it was this fish fry, red from the spices it’s fried with, that I had a hankering for.

I was also craving Dodda’s mango curry. The grandmother of my old neighbors in Bangalore, affectionately known as Dodda, had passed away many years ago. She was from the Udupi area and the mango curry she made was not something people in Bangalore, where I grew up, knew how to make. I hadn’t had this mango curry in maybe twelve years

Gadbad ice cream, a dessert where layers of various ice cream flavors are alternated with dry fruits, fresh fruits and nuts, is a recent but iconic Mangalore ‘food’. One summer when my cousins and I were kids, we spent our summer vacation in Mangalore while my grandfather recovered from surgery. This was our treat of choice and we indulged regularly! The Gadbad ice cream was the only thing still available everywhere in Mangalore and Udupi.

None of those other dishes I’d reminisced about over the years were served anywhere I went. All the restaurants had the same standard menu that was to be found in Udupi restaurants elsewhere in the world. The difference was they also served North Indian and Chinese food. If you’ve had a different experience and know of great restaurants in Udupi, please share in the comments!

Who the hell goes to Udupi for Chinese food, I complained bitterly to myself. My only consolation of having traveled far to get to Mangalore was to visit those old neighbors who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. So, imagine my joy, when, after having returned to Bangalore, I was offered a cooking lesson with a family friend who is from Mangalore! Susheela Aunty, the family friend who gave me the lesson is an expert in making pineapple curry, a very close relative of the mango curry of my youth.

It is now my pleasure to share this recipe with you. Cooking this in rainy Seattle brings back not only the memories of my recent trip to India a couple of months ago, but also all those childhood memories that seem tied to food in one way or another.

This dish is slightly more complicated than most other recipes that I share on this blog. There are a few more ingredients and cooking steps. But I hope that you will find the time and patience to try this dish. It is truly worth it.

Click here for a video version of the pineapple curry recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored and diced (or 2 cans unsweetened pineapple chunks)
  • 1 cup mild (byadige) dry red chilis (you could substitute 2-4 of a hotter variety)
  • 2 teaspoons urud dal or dehusked split black lentils
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  • ½ teaspoon fenugreek
  • 3 whole curry leaves stems
  • 10-15 curry leaves
  • Pinch asafetida
  • 3/4 cup grated fresh coconut (you can substitute frozen or dessicated, unsweetened coconut*)
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup jaggery or brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Salt to taste ~1 teaspoon

* If using frozen coconut, thaw before using. If using dessicated coconut, rehydrate in warm water for 10 minutes.

Roast dry red chilis in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil on medium heat for 3 minutes. Remove the chilis and in the same pan, saute urud dal,  coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek, curry leaf stems or 2-3 curry leaves, and asafetida for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

Add the grated coconut and roasted chilies. Saute for another 2 minutes on medium heat. Remove and put aside to cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat in the same pan or another big enough to hold all the pineapple pieces and water When you see oil ripples on the surface, throw in a mustard seed. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.  Add the black mustard seeds and the curry leaves and fry for 15 seconds.

Add and bring to a gentle boil 2 cups of water, jaggery and turmeric.

Add the diced pineapple. Bring again to a boil, lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes till the pineapple can be easily pinched. Canned pineapple may cook faster.

While waiting on the pineapple, grind the roasted spices and coconut with 1cup of water or as little as needed to make the flavor base or “masala”. I use my blender for this.

Add the ground ‘masala’ to the cooked pineapple. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes adding a bit more water if the curry starts sticking to the pan. Add salt to taste.

Serve over rice or with rotis chapatis, idlis or dosas.

fresh whole pineapple

Cutting up a whole fresh pineapple

Cooking the diced pineapple

Cooking the diced pineapple with mustard seeds, curry leaves, turmeric and jaggery

pineapple curry from udupi or mangalore

Udupi Pineapple Curry

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South Indian Curried Eggplant with a Spicy Coconut Gravy

This post has been a long time in coming.  I’ve made this a few times for friends and they’ve been asking for the recipe. This eggplant dish with a coconut gravy was something my mom made often when I was a kid.

South Indian eggplant curry with a spicy coconut gravy

And as I write this, I’m reminded of a recent article on CHOW titled 9 Words the Food Industry Killed. ‘Local’, ‘organic’ and ‘artisan’ made it on the list, understandably. ‘Mom’ is also on the list. While I agreed with most of the author’s argument, this point rankled with me at first. Until I realized I’d misunderstood the point.

The fast food movement, like many other industries I might point out, uses the image of mothers in ads to persuade people to buy something. And consumers, hello that’s us, we buy it. In a world where many moms are so busy that ‘food’ from McDonalds has become part of the family tradition, that’s all the more reason to celebrate mothers who took the time to hand down family recipes.  I never tire of reading posts from bloggers whose grandmothers were their biggest foodie inspiration. In my experience, most people consider their mom’s cooking to be the best. So keep putting out those recipes for flaky pie crusts from your grandma or your aunt’s out-of-this-world biryani. I’m a huge fan.

Of course, the day I see a treasured recipe that has been in the family for generations and calls for Hamburger Helper, will be the day I eat my words.

In the meantime, this recipe is from my mom. Of course, mine never comes out as good as hers. But I make it anyway. And it tastes good. And who knows, maybe one day, I will learn how to make it taste like the gold standard.

So I hope you’ll read on, cook the eggplant with coconut gravy and share this post with friends. Mom thinks it’s good!

The masala can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. Because there are many ingredients involved, I’d recommend making a big batch and using as needed.

This dish is a quintessential way of making ‘curries’ from South India, especially the state of Karnataka. Unlike North Indian curries, different spices are used and the gravy is made separately and added to the curried vegetable. The local name for this curried eggplant recipe is Badnekayi Palya. Except for the urud dal and fenugreek seeds that I purchased from the Indian grocery store, all other ingredients came from my neighborhood supermarket.

Readily available dessicated coconut and eggplant used in dish

Dry roasting the spices and coconut

Making the masala

Recipe – Serves 4

Masala

To Dry Roast

  • 1-2 dry red chili, stalks removed and cut up into smaller pieces
  • ½ cup dessicated, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ teaspoon white poppy seeds (can substitute black)
  • 2 teaspoons split black lentils (urud dal) or use any other dehusked lentils
  • ¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (optional)

To Grind

  • 1 teaspoon jaggery or brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon tamarind juice (if you can’t find it, substitute 2 teaspoons lemon juice)
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 2 small green thai chilis or jalapenos
  • ½ cup water

Curry

  • 1 Eggplant, cut into 2 inch x ½ inch spears
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced (about ½ cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons high heat oil
  • 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • 5-10 curry leaves

In a skillet heated to medium low, dry roast the spices for 5 minutes. Blend the roasted spices with the remaining ingredients to be ground.

Heat 4 tablespoons high heat oil in the same skillet over medium high heat till the oil starts shimmering. Throw in a mustard seed and if it sizzles, the oil is hot enough to proceed. Sizzle the mustard seeds till they start spluttering.

Add curry leaves and let them fry for 5 seconds before adding the onions. Saute the onions till slightly brown and then add the garlic and eggplant. The eggplant pieces will soak up a lot of oil. If they start sticking to the skillet, add a bit more oil.

Sauté the eggplant for 5 minutes or till the pieces start softening. Add the blended gravy. Lower the heat to medium low. Cover the skillet and cook for 15 minutes.

Salt to taste. Add lime juice if desired.

Serve with rice, dosas or ragi rottis!

Badnekayi palya or South Indian curried eggplant with coconut gravy served with ragi rotti!

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Sweet Potato with Toasted Coconuts and Warm Jaggery Syrup

Sweet Potato with Toasted Coconut and Warm Jaggery Syrup

It’s been a week of sweets around here! The Indian festival of Diwali is on the 26th of October this year. As part of our celebrations, I’ve posted an Indian or Indian inspired dessert every day this week. All of them have incorporated seasonal, local ingredients.

Looking back to the previous posts this week, I’ve realized that I came up with a way to make all of them healthier, typically with adding less sugar or using a ‘natural’ substitute. The beets, parsnip, applesauce all substituted for sugar and added great texture and crunch. I didn’t really set out to make this a healthy Diwali, but if I have to eat sweets five days in a row, they had better not be bad for me!

Here’s this week’s lineup:

Monday – Golden Beets with Roasted Cashews (Halwa)

Tuesday – Kesari Baath: Easy Cream of Wheat Dessert with Parsnips and Dates

Wednesday – Cashewnut Squares with Spiced Applesauce (cashew burfi)

Thursday – Pear Lassi with Ginger and Honey

Today’s recipe is Indian inspired rather than Indian. The recipe just came together on its own after I baked the sweet potato and was wondering what to make with it. You get yams in India but they are sweeter than the yams or sweet potatoes you get here. Jaggery is unrefined cane sugar. It is sometimes also made from palm sap. The flavor of jaggery is quite different from that of refined table sugar.

Microwave baked sweet potato

Diced sweet potato

Jaggery

Jaggery syrup - reduced with green cardamom

Serves 3-4

Recipe

  • 1 big sweet potato
  • 1 teaspoon ghee (or unsalted butter)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut chips (frozen or dried, thaw first if using frozen)
  • 4 tablespoons jaggery (brown sugar or demerara can be used too)
  • 3 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Pierce the sweet potato 3-4 times with a fork or knife. Cook on high for 8 minutes or till soft. Turn over half way through.

Peel and dice into 1 inch cubes.

Heat the ghee in a saucepan on medium heat. Toast the coconut chips for 4-5 minutes while stirring frequently. They should be lightly browned and crisp.

Heat the jaggery with 1/4 cup of water in a small pot over medium heat. Add cardamom pods. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 10 -15 minutes or till the sauce has reduced and is the consistency of maple syrup. If you need to, add more water.

Mix the sweet potato and coconut chips and drizzle the jaggery sauce over them.

This has been a very special week as I don’t often get to indulge in Indian sweets. Thanks for following along and Happy Diwali!

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Puri Saagu – a Dish Fit for the Guests!

If you’re trying to go vegetarian or eat less meat, you could figure out meat substitutions for what you normally eat. Or, and I prefer this, you could make dishes that are meant to be vegetarian. And South Indian cuisines have so many vegetarian dishes to offer. And this is one of those dishes that you barely realize is vegetarian! Um vegan in fact. I guarantee that you will not miss the meat.

I want to share with you Puri Saagu (or Poori Sagu) today which was one of my favorite dishes growing up. My mom didn’t make puris quite as often as we would have liked, because they are fried. So puris were reserved for weekends or special occasions like when guests visited.

Sagu, South Indian vegetable curry

Saagu is a very South Indian curry with a base that is made separately and then cooked together with the vegetables. The ‘base’ is called a masala and is thickened by coconut and lentils. This is not a dish at your typical Indian restaurant which makes it even more special.

Vegetables for sagu, we used beans, carrots, peas

Ingredients for masala

Sagu

1.5 cup of vegetables (diced green bell pepper, shelled peas, carrots, diced potatoes, green beans)
½ yellow onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves (online source)
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons salt or to taste

Masala base

½ cup grated coconut or 1 cup dessicated, unsweetened coconut flakes (if using dessicated, rehydrate in warm water for 10 minutes)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 tablespoons chana dal (You can try substituting with 2 tablepoons chickpea flour. Roast in a pan on low heat for 2-3 minutes)
2 teaspoons white poppy seeds (optional)
3 thai green chilis, ends cut
1 teaspoon tamarind paste (or juice of ½ lime)
Water to blend

Boiling vegetables - Carrots, potatoes, beans, peas

Sagu - smells just right!

Boil the prepared vegetables using enough water to cover the vegetables plus 1/4 inch, for 6-7 minutes or till they are almost cooked.
Dry roast the masala ingredients over medium heat for 3 minutes or till the chana dal is slightly brown.
Blend with ½ cup water or enough to make the blender work.
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat for 2-3 minutes or till a mustard seed thrown in starts to sizzle.
Sizzle the mustard seeds for 10 seconds or till they start spluttering (it helps to have a cover handly) and then add the curry leaves for another 5 seconds.
Stir fry the onions for 5 minutes or till slightly brown.
Add the blended masala to the pot and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the cooked vegetables along with the water they boiled in.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. You can start cooking the puris at this time.
Add salt to taste.

Puris (or pooris)

Rustic Puris

2 cups unbleached whole wheat flour + 1/3 cup for dusting
1 teaspoon salt
Water
1 cup oil or enough to fry puris in

Make a dough starting with 1/3 cup water and adding more as necessary.
Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 10 minutes or till the last steps of the sagu.
Divide the dough into 8 balls.
Dust them and your work surface with a bit of flour.
Roll out each ball into a circle that is a couple of millimeters thick. Keep covered to prevent them from drying out.
Fill a small frying pan with vegetable oil up to half an inch. (Using a larger pan means you will need to fill it with more oil)
Heat over medium high till the oil just starts smoking.
Ever so gently slide a puri into the hot oil (please be careful with this step!)
With a slotted spoon, pat the topside of the puri – this helps it puff up, a characteristic that most people desire. Cook for 30 seconds on both sides or till golden brown.
Place the cooked puri on 3 layers of paper towels to soak up excess oil.
Cook all your puris this way keeping in mind that you may have to adjust the heat up and down. If the oil starts smoking a lot, turn down the heat. If the puris are taking too long to cook, turn up the heat again.

Patting the puri to make it puff up

A puffed puri - isn't that pretty!

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Creamy Savory Coconut Chutney

On a recent trip to the Bay Area, my husband took me to a South Indian restaurant to impress me. He often works in California and had been to the restaurant a few times with his Indian colleagues. Knowing how picky I am with Indian restaurants, he was eager to get my verdict. Since we were really hungry, the waiter naturally took extra long to take our order, gave our order to some other table, tried to give us a different dish, and then finally showed up with the right food. Ah crappy service, a hallmark of an authentic Indian restaurant! We were both so hungry by the time the first plate arrived, we tore into the Uthappams (South Indian crepe with vegetables included in the batter) with gusto. The plate was empty in two minutes. Even the chutneys (dips) were all gone. With fingers tapping and eyes wandering over to our neighbors’ plates we proceeded to wait for the next dish.

The food was good, almost as good as in South India. My husband’s eyes popped out as I’ve never said that about any other Indian restaurant we’ve been to. This is not a compliment that I dole out easily.

While many Indian restaurants do a decent job on the entrees, they don’t pay as much attention to the simple but important sides, the chutneys. The green coconut chutney in the Bay Area restaurant was great! And they had not one but three kinds of chutneys with each dish.

It’s such an easy thing to make that it is astounding to me that someone can make coconut chutney that doesn’t taste good. After reading this recipe, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Ingredients

Shredded coconut (fresh or frozen) – about 1/2 cup

Cilantro leaves – 1/2 cup chopped

Green chile (thai or jalapeno) – 1-2, stems removed and roughly chopped

Lime – to taste (typically juice of 1/2 – 1 lime. Can also use lemon juice)

Salt – to taste

Recipe

Blend the coconut, cilantro and green chiles with 1/4 cup of water. If you need more water, add a bit more. If you want to make the chutney to use as a dip, try to use as little water as possible. Add salt and squeeze lime juice to taste.

Taste the chutney and add more cilantro or chiles if you like. The amounts are an estimation and I always go by the taste. I love my chutney spicy and with extra lime.

I’ve even substituted coconut milk for shredded coconut and it makes for a creamier chutney. Use thick coconut milk (vs. lite coconut milk) and don’t add any water.

It is typical to season oil with mustard seeds, curry leaves etc and pour this onto the chutney for added taste. In my opinion the chutney tastes great without this final step which requires more work and ingredients.

Traditionally, this green coconut chutney is eaten with dosas (south indian crepes made of lentil and rice flour) and idlis (steamed rice cakes). But I think it can also be used as a dip. Try it with toasted pita bread or corn chips.

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Ode to a Coconut

The poor coconut has been much maligned as being unhealthy and laden with cholesterol. That view may be changing now as I found out on a recent tour of a grocery co-op lead by a nutritionist. Though high in cholesterol, coconuts contain medium chain triglycerides, or MCT’s. MCTs are easily digested and are converted into energy right away as opposed to other fats that are stored. Some research suggests that consuming more coconuts can help you lose weight!

I’ve always loved coconut is all its forms! Tender sweet coconut water is the best thing on a hot summer day. The next best thing is scooping out the still tender white flesh that later thickens into meat. Grated fresh coconut adds instant deliciousness and texture to ‘curried’ vegetables – see my earlier post. And of course Thai curries and soups made with coconut milk (made by squeezing grated coconut meat) are so flavorful.

Writing about coconuts reminds me of my grandmother’s lovely garden where she has five or six coconut trees. One of my ambitions as a child was to climb one of these trees and harvest my own coconut. I’d seen men shinny up coconut palms using a technique where they alternated hands and feet. This was one ambition that was soon dropped as I could never replicate the frog-like technique. Fast forwarding to the present, I’m just happy that we can buy coconuts and coconut milk in the market!

I’ve noticed recently that many of my friends also love coconut and so I do end up using it quite regularly. For a recent dinner party, I’d offered to bring a dessert. I didn’t have any fresh coconut left but did have some Baker’s sweetened coconut flakes. Coconut “burfi” (a general word for many sweets in India that can be cut into squares) came to mind and I made it, though in a non-traditional way. It was moist and crunchy at the same time and everyone liked it. Best of all, it is super easy to make though after my introduction on how healthy coconuts are, I should probably stick to fresh instead of processed coconut flakes! Here’s the recipe. It serves 8.

You’ll need:

  • Baker’s coconut (sweetened) – 7 oz pack
  • whole milk (I substituted soy milk creamer) – 1.5 to 2 cups
  • sugar (or an alternate sweetener. I used jaggery, a raw form of cane sugar) – 1 tbsp
  • green cardamom – 10, seeded and roughly ground using a mortar and pestle
  • saffron (optional) – 7-8 threads, crumbled

Simmer the milk on medium-low till it comes to a rolling boil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Simmer for 30 minutes or till the mixture has thickened and there is almost no liquid left. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Let it cool a bit and spread the coconut mixture in a thick layer in a buttered pan. Refrigerate (or even freeze) for a few hours to get it to set. Don’t worry too much if it won’t harden. It will still taste fine.

Enjoy this yummy dessert and the lovely floral saffron with the woody notes of cardamom perfectly matched with sweet and crunchy coconut!

And a quick tip if you’re shopping for this amazing nut. Choose one where you can hear the liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it.

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