Brazil's culinary influences include not only Amerindian and Portuguese foods, but the cooking styles of immigrants from many other parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Each of the country's five geographic regions offer cuisines that are distinctly different yet recognizably Brazilian.
Coconut meat and the milk made from it are key components in Brazilian cookery. It is easy to make coconut milk from freshly grated coconut and capture the authentic taste of Brazilian dishes using it. A thick, rich milk is produced from the first squeezing of the gratings; a thinner milk is derived from a second round of squeezing.
Heat the coconut in a preheated oven (350 degrees F) for 10 minutes to crack the coconut. Remove the coconut from the oven (with pot holders!) and place it in a large metal bowl on the floor. Cover the bowl with a towel and hit the coconut with a hammer to break it completely open. More than one strike may be necessary. Remove the pieces of broken coconut from the bowl. Strain the coconut water (agua de cuco) that is released through a coffee filter to remove any fibers, and set aside. Separate the coconut meat from the shell, using a dull knife to pry them apart if necessary.
Remove the brown skin from the coconut meat with a vegetable peeler and grate the meat in a food processor.
To make the thick milk, put the gratings into cheesecloth or a clean white dish towel and hold the ends together. Soak the wrapped gratings in 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl for a few minutes. Firmly squeeze the gratings over the bowl. About 3/4 cup of thick milk will be obtained. A less efficient method of making thick coconut milk is to put the grated coconut in a sieve, wet it with warm water, and press out the milk with a spoon.
Thin milk is made by soaking the same wrapped gratings in 2 to 3 cups of warm water and repeating the squeezing procedure. (Use the reserved coconut water and bring the volume to 2 to 3 cups with warm water.)
Canned or bottled coconut milk can be purchased at specialty stores. Dishes made with it, however, will not have the authentic Brazilian taste that is provided by freshly prepared coconut milk.
*Before buying a coconut, shake it to make sure it contains water.
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This page modified January 2007
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