Many years ago, my first attempt at whole coconut left me desperately smashing the shell on a city sidewalk, but I’ve always wanted to give it another shot. This time around, I watched a few online videos, and learned that all I needed was a hammer and a screwdriver (see directions below). With these tips, I was able to extract the coconut’s thirst-quenching water and pearly white meat. It’s a tough nut to crack (ok, technically coconuts are drupes), but once you do, the possibilities are endless! I decided to make a rich coconut milk to use in this refreshing meatless noodle dish that can be served hot or cold.
Coconut-Peanut Noodles with Fresh Vegetables
One (14-ounce) block extra-firm tofu, drained
1 pound dry spaghetti
1 1/2 cups fresh coconut milk
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-inch knob ginger root, grated
2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more for seasoning
1/2 lime (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 hothouse cucumber, sliced into thin strips
1 medium carrot, sliced into thin strips
Salt to taste
Crushed roasted peanuts, for serving
Yield: 6 to 8
1. Wrap the tofu in paper towels and place in a colander. Place a few cans on top of the tofu to weigh it down, and let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain the water. Slice the tofu into 3/4-inch slices.
2. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
3. In a small pot over medium heat, combine the coconut milk, peanut butter, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. Stir until the mixture begins to warm and blend together. Turn the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lime, if using, into the sauce and add more soy sauce to taste.
4. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the tofu in the pan until golden on one side, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn and continue to cook the other side till golden, 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Remove from the pan and chop into small cubes.
5. Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the red peppers, cucumber, carrot and tofu. Serve with the coconut-peanut sauce.
How to Crack a Coconut
Prepare the coconut by washing it, especially around the three “eyes” located on one end of the fruit. Wash the hammer and screwdriver (a pointy Phillips head). Hold the screwdriver firmly against one of the “eyes,” and carefully hit it with the hammer until it penetrates the coconut, past the meat and through to the center. Pull the screwdriver out and continue repeat for the other two “eyes.” Once you’ve created the three holes, drain the coconut of its water.
Once the water is drained, take the hammer and whack all around the coconut until the hard shell cracks. Separate the meat from the shell.
How to Make Coconut Milk
Take the coconut meat and grate it using the small holes of a box grater. Once you get 4 cups of shredded coconut, place it in a large bowl and cover with 2 cups of hot water. Let sit until the water is cool enough to the touch. Using your hands, massage the shredded coconut for around 5 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to separate the milk from the meat. Squeeze the coconut to remove as much liquid as you can. You should get around 2 cups of coconut milk. If you like your milk to be on the lighter side, let the milk sit until the fat separates from the water and skim as much fat as you like.