I grew up in the Philippines surrounded with lots and lots of coconut. We own acres of coconut tree plantation. Our family business is in the coconut industry. I remember helping my mom cracking coconuts with a bolo knife, grating the meat with a kudkuran [kood-koo-rahn], and squeezing out the milk with our own hands. The process is laborious but immensely rewarding. Extracting coconut milk by hand may seem like an extravagant use of time but it’s the kind of extravagance I earnestly wish I could afford. Coconut milk in cans were never an option.
Coconut milk or “gata” is a very versatile ingredient in Filipino cooking. Practically anything from fish and shellfish to chicken, pork, and vegetables and even dessert can be cooked in coconut milk.
Green Papaya in coconut milk is one of my family’s favorite dish, the addition of lemongrass is my Mom’s secret to make it even more exotically fragrant. I wish I can make this dish with fresh coconut cream, freshly squeezed grated coconut has that fragrant aroma that canned version doesn’t have, I just don’t have the right tool and availability of fresh coconut to make this happen here in the US.
Green Papaya with Lemongrass in Coconut Milk
1 small size papaya, peeled, sliced thinly into 1/2 inch, 2 cloves garlic
1 can coconut cream – I use Chakaoh brand
1 large tomato cut in chunks
1/2 stalk of lemongrass ( pound the stalk to release flavor)
smoked fish or “tinapa” flaked (optional)
A few Thai chilies (optional) and small onion sliced
set aside 1/4 cup coconut cream (use the very first layer)
Combine, coconut cream, tomato, onions, garlic, lemongrass and bring to a boil
After 5 minutes, add smoked fish and chili peppers.
Cook for another 10 minutes until the papaya is tender, season with salt.
Add the reserve coconut milk and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Serve with rice.