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Coconuts for Mean Molly

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

“Coconut trees can do everything … now I’ve had coconut oil in my car engine for four months.” −Kitti Manneesrikul, school teacher and coconut farmer

Sailing fleets vied for control of the incense and spice trade during the era of transoceanic voyages. Goods from the Far East reached northern shores by the cargo load, a flood that widened and deepened as cities grew prosperous and spent fortunes on luxuries.

The coconut, however, is an enigma. It may have been a native of the New World, washed up on other beaches by transoceanic tides. Although there are sporadic accounts of its presence by invading Spaniards, its cultivation had occurred in Asia and Africa centuries prior to this.

The seafaring Portuguese dubbed the large husk with its trove of flesh and sweet water “coco,” their term for grinning face, and “nut” from the English. Its domestication, a product of rustic science, permeated histories of Asian and African civilizations.

This recipe from India for fish cooked in a rich bath of coconut milk, fresh herbs, chiles and spice is dubbed Mean Molly. Coconut milk imparts a silky consistency to the curry!

Mean Molly


2 tsp. turmeric

Lime juice

A good pinch sea salt

1-1/2 lb. baby shark or other firm fish fillets, cut into bite size portions


One medium onion, thinly sliced

1-1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and finely shredded

5 cloves garlic, sliced

1/4 cup fresh chopped coriander

A few curry or lime leaves (optional)

1 or 2 green chiles, seeded (if desired) and minced

2 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. sugar

Pinch of sea salt and black pepper

Best quality oil for frying

2 cups dried, shredded or granulated unsweetened coconut


Place coconut in a mixing bowl. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and add to bowl. Cover and let stand until cool. Squeeze out the pulp with fingers to extract as much of the milk as possible and strain liquid through a colander. Discard pulp and reserve milk extract. (As a convenience, canned unsweetened coconut milk can be substituted.)


Combine fish, turmeric, lime juice, and salt in a bowl. Refrigerate and allow to marinate 30 minutes or longer. Remove and set aside. Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add cumin seeds and allow to brown on medium heat. Add onions, garlic, ginger shreds, chiles, turmeric, and curry or lime leaves. Continue to saute, stirring, until transparent. Add sea salt, black pepper, and chopped coriander. Cook slowly, stirring, until ingredients are an even, aromatic golden brown. Pour in coconut milk, bring to a boil. Reduce contents of the pan to approximately half. Gently stir in the baby shark and combine with the other ingredients. A little lime juice may be added at this stage, taking care not to curdle the liquid. Continue cooking about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until done. Top with lightly toasted shredded coconut or coriander leaves and serve.


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