Young coconuts are bloody awesome, from the sweet, energising water contained inside to the jelly-like flesh that you are left with. Young coconut flesh can be used in many different ways – you can blend it into a salad dressing to give a lovely, creamy consistency; finely chop it and add it to desserts; pop it into smoothies to thicken them; or use it in salads such as this one.
I have served this salad in ‘bowls’ made from half a young coconut, but don’t worry – if you damage the delicate flesh then just shred it and put it through the salad and serve it in the coconut husk or your favourite bowl instead. And if you like it hot, feel free to add as much red chilli to the dressing as you like.
2 young coconuts
500 g chicken thigh fillets
2 × 400 ml cans coconut milk
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger
300 g (4 cups) finely shredded cabbage
2 large handfuls of coriander leaves
1 handful of mint leaves
1 handful of Thai basil leaves
1 small carrot, shredded or grated
3 tablespoons fried shallots (to make your own, see recipe below)
2 tablespoons fried garlic (to make your own, see recipe below)
80 g (½ cup) almonds (activated if possible), crushed
½ red onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Fish Sauce Dressing
100 ml fish sauce
2 tablespoons grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
juice of 3 limes, or more to taste
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
Fried Shallots or Garlic
250 ml (1 cup) coconut oil
4 French shallots or garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 To make the pickled onion, combine the onion and vinegar in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. Drain.
2 To prepare the coconut bowls, use a large, sharp, heavy knife to cut the coconuts in half. Pour out the coconut water and reserve for another use. Gently ease a large spoon between the flesh and skin and, in a circular motion and trying not to break the flesh, run the spoon around the side of the coconut. Carefully slide the spoon underneath to the base and lift out the coconut flesh. Repeat with the remaining coconut halves.
3 Place the chicken thighs in a saucepan and add the coconut milk, 250 ml of water, the fish sauce, garlic and ginger and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10–12 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the meat.
4 To make the fish sauce dressing, combine all the ingredients plus 100 ml of water in a bowl or large jar. Taste and add more lime juice or water, if necessary.
5 Combine the cabbage, coriander, mint, basil and carrot in a large bowl and toss well.
6 To make your own fried shallots or garlic, melt the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots or garlic and cook for 2–3 minutes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. (You can re-use the oil for sautéing vegetables or cooking meat, chicken or fish.)
7 When you’re ready to serve, toss the chicken into the salad and add the dressing to taste. Place the salad in the coconut bowls and top with the fried shallots, fried garlic, crushed almonds and pickled onion.