My fondness for coconut grew out of an old Sunday ritual. I’d stand back, pressed against the kitchen counter, as mom prepared to crack the dry coconut on the floor of our Toronto apartment. The rough brown shell eventually succombed to the machete-like implement reserved for the occasion. Then, with bare hands wet from washing the pieces, mom broke each one into smaller portions to be grated and made into cream for rice & peas, a staple Jamaican side dish. All but one piece that is: into my palm she placed one small, delightul chunk of mouthwatering white flesh.
Since then, I’ve come to enjoy the distinct taste of coconut in everything from Indian curries to organic macaroons. (Though, oddly enough, I’ve never liked the water or jelly found in young green cocounts.) Canada’s Third Annual Coconut Festival presented an irresistible opportunity to explore the versatile food in Caribbean dishes and fare from around the world. I say fare because the bustling, downtown Toronto festival featured not only edibles, but health, beauty, craft and clothing items too. Whether you’re experiencing the unique flavour of coconut for the first or fortieth time, here are my top three must-try’s.
Pure Coconut Water
It’s been trending among the health-conscious for years, and for good reason. The pure liquid contains calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium (great for post-workout hydration) and boasts several benefits like facilitating digestion and helping reduce blood pressure, among others. Sip it straight from a young green nut for an authentic taste, or look for a brand like Vita Coco that packages the water without added sugar.
King Fish Soft Taco
King Catering cooked up the most delicious coconut-infused main dishes, including their soft tacos, a modern twist on classic Jamaican eats. Atop my round flour tortilla was the perfect portion of lightly battered king fish, accompanied by coleslaw, coconut garlic sauce and chili mayo. The coconut was a natural complement to the spices and had presence without overpowering the fish. To try it, find King Catering at local festivals, hire them for your next event, or give the recipe a try at home!
Okay, I said top three but I’m giving you four, because I couldn’t resist either of these delectable desserts.
Continuing the Jamaican theme, this baked treat became an instant favourite during my first childhood trip to the island.
(Jamaican Coconut) Drops
Dry chopped coconut, ginger, sugar and water are boiled into a rich syrup, which is then dropped by the spoonful onto wax paper and baked until hardened. The result is a sweet candy-like treat bursting with equal flavours of ginger and coconut. I got the real deal from an old Jamaican lady I found unpacking her baked goods at an unmarked table. Can’t wait ’til next year’s festival to try it? Look for homemade drops packaged in small sandwich bags near the front counter of Caribbean take-out and grocery stores.
Toronto’s Only Haupia Pie
Of course, the joy of cooking with coconut (in its many forms) is not limited to Jamaican cuisine. One look, and I couldn’t resist the presentation of Big E’s Hawaiian Grinds’ haupia pie. To compare, it’s essentially a personal size chocolate-coconut cream pie. The light, creamy filling will literally make you say “Mmm” at the first bite. Lactose-intolerant beware: it’s rich in dairy and served with (optional) whipped cream topping. Big E’s claims to offer Toronto’s only haupia pie so if you want to try it, you’ll have to find the food truck at an event or hire them for yours.
For more information about the Cocount Festival, visit coconutfestival.ca