The teeth-less Maya man stares at me and laughs. I must look a bit clumsy trying to open the top of the green coconut I have just found, with a huge blunt machete. I did it before so it should work. I keep smashing the metal into the sturdy green coconut shell. The man shakes his head and takes the machete. I step aside and watch how, with only two cuts, the little man chops it off and empties its water into the jar.
Spending one week on an island of Glover’s Reef in the middle of a marine reserve and without running water left us with coconuts as the only local resource to complement our food supplies. We quickly learnt to leverage them at best: coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut meat, coconut shell…
Coconut water comes from the young green coconuts. The best way to find them is to climb up a tree and grab some coconuts that are still hanging. They are easier to slice open from the bottom to get the juice out. This water is delicious to drink and is very hydrating thanks to its high level of potassium, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals: it’s exactly what we need! On top of that, we experimented a few interesting cooking option from rice to pancakes and cocktails.
In most tropical countries, the coconuts will be sliced open like this and sold to tourists with a straw as a local drink.
The bonus is that once the coconut is empty, one can spoon out the very soft white flesh: a real treat!
More mature coconuts are the sources for coconut meat and its derivatives: chips, oil, or milk.
The coconut falls down its tree and turns brown as it gets older while the nut itself becomes thicker and really solid. It takes a bit more effort to get in! Selecting the right coconut is important: we grab them on the floor and shake them. When we can hear that there is water in, it is a go!
First, thanks to a vertical metal bar, we smash the outer shell of the coconut from its top in order to peal it out. The pealing is quite physical and following the direction of the fibres is key. Then, we are left with a spherical wood-like nut. A strong well positioned blow with the blunt side of a machete does the trick to crack it open. A bit of coconut water is still present and the hearty nutty meat is accessible. Using a bit more strength, the chewy meat can be eaten plain. It can also be ground to obtain graded coconut. Squeezing it (by hand or thanks to a cloth) produces fresh coconut creamy oil! Really delicious as is, adding some coconut water to it makes the coconut milk.
On top of the nutrients (manganese, potassium, copper), the oil can be applied to feed your skin or soften your hair. The shell provides a perfect cup we drank rum from. We just did not have enough time to start making jewellery out of it!
Our coconut-based recipes:
- Rice as a side: cooking rice (and pasta) in coconut water is so much better than using seawater!! Pour about 2 volumes of coconut water for 1 volume of rice and cook it softly until all the water is absorbed by the rice. Add a bit of coconut chips once serving the hot rice to give it a sweeter and softer taste.
- Rice salad: cook the rice the same way, and let it cool down. Mix it with fresh vegetables and herbs (the first few days, we had tomatoes, corn, coriander, onion…). Pour some coconut oil with a splash of lime as a dressing: delicious!
- Dessert rice: soak warm white rice in coconut oil, and add some pancake syrup.
- Pancakes: mix flour, graded coconut for heartiness and crunchiness, coconut water and a little bit of seawater for the salt. Form a ball of dough and flatten it while frying it in the pan (before reaching the island, we could buy some canned butter that doesn’t require to be kept cool). Serve with pancake syrup, and peanut butter. Delicious morning pancakes!!
- Our Glover’s reef cocktail: old barrel Belizean rum, coconut milk, lime, pancake syrup.
Spending one week on a Robinson island, we got really creative with the resources we had at hand. Even though we could have had meals from the island cook, we are proud of having passed our own challenge: surviving for a week with only a few basics and no power. With only one major error (cooking red beans for less than 4 hours in seawater… don’t try it!), most of our meals were fairly tasty and enjoyable!
Claire & Marcella
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