Ceviche with coconut.
Jazz up a classic ... ceviche with coconut and lime. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Jill Dupleix

Under that green skin, this newcomer is sweet, tender and oh-so-versatile.

What is it?

Not the hard, brown, hairy coconut, but the young, green-skinned, smooth coconut, filled with sweet coconut water and soft, tender coconut meat. ''The coconut tree gives shelter, food, water and fuel,'' says Luke Bice of Sunrise Coconuts in Mission Beach, who shimmies up the 20-metre trees in the wild. ''It's the tree of life.''

Coconut
"Tree of life" ... coconuts provide food, drink and fuel. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Where is it?

In Sydney, Bondi's Bucket List has gone nuts over coconuts, setting up an all-summer-long coconut cocktail bar outside. ''We shake rum, pineapple and mint with plenty of ice and fresh young coconut juice,'' says manager Dave Champ. ''People love the novelty of drinking from the shell''. At the new Palings Kitchen & Bar, chef Christopher Whitehead skewers Vietnamese meatballs (nem nuong) with cuttlefish, prawn and roasted pork belly and serves them with a coconut water dressing alongside leaves and herbs for wrapping and rolling. Over at Shortgrain, the chic little-sis canteen to Longrain, head chef Louis Tikaram goes through cartons of young coconuts every week. ''We use the juice and the soft flesh in our coconut tapioca. It's really refreshing, and lighter than the heavy coconut cream''. Tikaram says each coconut is a complete package, and the kitchen leaves nothing to waste. ''We even use the shells as fuel in the grill'' he says.

Meanwhile at Melbourne's Hanoi Hannah in Prahran, the big summer order is for young coconut juice and spice rum cocktails, served in the coconut itself, complete with straw and cocktail umbrella. ''It's quite theatrical,'' the co-owner, Nick Coulter, says. ''Most people haven't seen a real coconut before, much less drunk from it.''

Theo Do, chef-owner of iDo Kitchen, grew up in Ho Chi Minh City surrounded by coconut trees. ''They were everywhere, and so cheap,'' he says wistfully. He says it is second nature to him to use both the juice and the flesh in his modern Vietnamese cooking. ''The juice is lightly sweet, so I don't have to add any extra sugar, and it keeps chocolate cake and cassava pudding moist,'' he says. He serves black sesame ice-cream with young coconut jelly and basil seed sauce, and also braises the goat for a curry in coconut water. ''Water has no flavour, so you may as well use something that tastes good.'' On a hot day, he blends the flesh and juice with palm sugar, lime juice and ice into cooling drinks for the staff.

Why do I care?

Because you can drink the juice and scrape out the soft, jellied flesh with a spoon. Or blend both juice and flesh together for cocktails and desserts. Or cook fish and meat in the juice. Or freeze the juice in cubes for an icy treat. Or light the barbecue with the shells. Phew.

Can I do it at home?

Yes. You can buy coconut water in bottles and Tetra Paks, but the original packaging is still the best. Look for semi-husked coconuts with intact shells that feel heavy with water.

Sourcing it

Sydney

The Bucket List, Bondi Pavilion, Queen Elizabeth Drive, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 4122.
Shortgrain, 8-10 Hunt St, Sydney, (02) 9280 2888.
Palings Kitchen & Bar, Level One, ivy, 330 George St, Sydney, (02) 9240 3000.

Melbourne

Hanoi Hannah, 180 High Street, Prahran, (03) 99395181. 
iDo Kitchen, 166 Bridport Street, Albert Park, (03) 96998969.

Young coconuts are available from south-east Asian, Indian and Pacific Island food stores; from The Coconut Shop at Marrickville Organic Food Markets (Sundays 7am-3pm)  or direct from Sunrise Coconuts, Mission Beach www.sunrisecoconuts.com.au 0402 098 060.

Recipe

Ceviche with coconut and lime

It's hard to beat this classic ceviche recipe, but feel free to add chopped jalapeno chillies, baby cos leaves and corn chips for serving.

2 tbsp lime or lemon juice

1 tsp castor sugar

1 tsp sea salt flakes

150ml fresh young coconut juice

400g sashimi-grade white fish (e.g. kingfish, mahi mahi) cut into small cubes

1 green or red chilli, finely sliced

1 tomato, finely diced

8 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 avocado, cut into cubes

Half red onion, finely sliced

3 tbsp picked coriander leaves

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1.  Mix the lime juice, sugar and salt in a glass bowl, stirring well, then add the coconut juice. Add the cubed fish and toss well. Cover and refrigerate for two to threehours, tossing once or twice. Drain off the marinade, and refresh the fish with a little extra lime juice and coconut juice.

2. Add the chilli, tomatoes, avocado, red onion and coriander leaves to the fish, and gently toss. Arrange on four dinner plates, drizzle with olive oil and serve.
 

Serves 4

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