Coconuts are very important to Thai, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Malaysian and South Indian cuisine. At all auspicious events, day or night, a coconut is broken on the ground. This is akin to cutting a ribbon at an event in the Western context. Yet, there is a superstition amongst traditional many Asians, that a coconut should not be broken after sundown. Coconut-based curries and desserts are plenty in South East Asia. A coconut-based curry cannot be stored for more than 10 hours outside the refrigerator as it will turn rancid. If refrigerated, it will keep for up to 2 days and frozen, for 2 months. Coconut is either ground with other spices and herbs (sometimes it is grated and roasted before it is ground) or coconut milk is extracted from grated coconut.
As coconut milk tends to curdle, it should be always brought to the boil over low heat, stirred frequently. Spoon the milk up and down in the pan. Once it comes to a boil, it should be simmered uncovered. Coconut milk can also be bought in tetra packs, canned or in powdered form. The three types of coconut milk used in South East Asian cooking are coconut cream, and thick and thin coconut milk. Coconut cream is extracted from grated coconut without the addition of water. To extract, place some grated coconut in a muslin cloth and squeeze out the coconut cream. For thick coconut milk, knead 1 kg grated coconut with 1 cup water. Knead and squeeze to extract thick coconut milk. For thin coconut milk, add 2 more cups of water to the grated coconut from which the coconut cream or thick coconut milk has been extracted. Knead and squeeze to extract thin coconut milk.
The health conscious can use the following substitutions for coconut milk:
coconut cream — evaporated milk
thick coconut milk – diluted evaporated milk
thin coconut milk — low fat milk