A Coconut Paradise, Two Ways

I'll admit, I've been rolling my eyes at the mention of coconut water for weeks. No, not coconut milk: the luscious, creamy liquid intent to add richness to curries and infuse desserts with tropical whisperings. If you happen to be on any sort of rigid regimen, coconut milk practically shoves a mini drink umbrella in your hand and begs you to run off to the Maldives. Come right in, it murmurs, the milk's just fine.

While—on the other side of the island—coconut water is doing exactly the opposite. Instead of leading you to sanctuary, it’s guilt-tripping you: telling you to get off your beach chair, put down the rum, you lush, and go kitesurfing.

Now, perhaps these generalizations occurred because I associated this fairly new to market coconut water with people who relentlessly talk about their calves; who seem to be in a constant panic about their hydration status; and, perhaps, who are perpetually wearing Lycra.

Not that there is a thing wrong with any of that, it’s just that I was unimpressed with the novelty of drinking the water—instead of the milk—of a coconut and had certain presumptions. I wasn’t all that interested in coconut water’s purported natural ability to replenish electrolytes. Nor did I fancy myself much of a kitesurfer.

But then free coconut water samples showed up at yoga. And in a goodie bag I received at a hotel event. And in a box that was suspiciously mailed to my office. Someone—or some coconut deity—was trying to tell me something. And it finally hit me over the head.

This coconut water was meant to make a guest appearance in the basmati rice I had been planning for dinner. I wanted fluffy rice, with a side of tropical escape from this wintry slop: and coconut milk would have mucked that up, making rice that was too sticky and heavy. Coconut water, on the other hand, is extracted by drawing only water, not fat; serving as a perfect liquid to bathe my rice in.

And since the water I received was lightly flavored with passion fruit juice, its slight sweetness brightly complimented the pinch of saffron and healthy dose of cardamom I threw into the pot. It was just the ticket. Rice to help you remember that winter won't last forever, while gently nudging that bathing suit season is closer than you think.

Admittedly—ahem—a fleeting sentiment, as I soon realized that this slightly spicy, floral rice would be perfect for coconut rice pudding. So I put down the bathing suit and picked up the coconut milk. At this very moment, I can’t think of a more quintessential dessert than creamy coconut rice pudding to counteract the slush outside: which a bikini just ain't gonna help with.

I suppose, all in all, I actually wound up with two tickets to paradise this week. Which is fine by me. Turn out the coconut water’s just fine too. As for bathing suit season: best reach for a spoon and wait for the snow to stop.

Coconut Cardamom Rice Pudding
2 cups cooked coconut spiced basmati rice (recipe suggestion follows)
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds removed
Pinch of salt
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch saffron
3 cardamom pods, smashed, shells removed and seeds ground
Ground pistachios (optional)

Combine rice, milk, coconut milk, sugar, vanilla bean (seeds and pod) and salt in saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and continue to cook stirring occasionally, to make sure milk does not burn, for about 15 minutes more, until mixture thickens. Remove vanilla bean pod. Pour into cups and chill. Top with crushed pistachios if desired.

Makes about 2 cups

Coconut Spiced Basmati Rice
1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
1 1/4 cup coconut water
Pinch of saffron
8 cardamom pods, smashed, shells removed and seeds ground
Pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients, cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down and simmer 15-20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Let sit 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.

Makes about 3 cups

-The coconut water I had was Vita Coco's passion fruit flavor. There was only 11 ounces in the bottle I had, so I added enough plain tap water to get to 12 ounces (1 1/4 cups) for cooking the rice. I like firm rice; if you like your rice a little more moist, you could add up to 16 ounces (2 cups) liquid.

-If you'd like to add your own flavoring, I'd estimate there isn't more than 4 ounces of fruit juice in the bottle I had (judging from the grams of carbs on the nutrition label).

-Use your best judgement on the saffron; it's easy to over or underdo. I used a generous pinch, but not so generous that it made the rice taste like a dishwasher.

-I use a mortar and pestle to grind both the cardamom (and the pistachios). I also suspect my cardamom is beginning to turn and loose flavor, so you may need less than I have specified.

-Anyone humming "Two Tickets to Paradise" by Eddie Money? Anyone?


  1. Oh how delicious these look and sound. Especially the Rice Pudding! Thank you for sharing...

    Be sure to come and enter my Giveaway from Blydesign......


    Art by Karena

  2. I absolutely love rice pudding but never tried coconut rice pudding. I love coconuts so this would be very nice. Will give this a try. First time I heard of coconut water being used for cooking rice, nice idea.

  3. Coconut rice pudding sounds wonderful. I love that the coconut water gods have been flooding you with coconut water!

  4. I can't stand rice pudding but you made me want it. Badly. I'm not a beach person but I'd much rather sit on the porch of a mountaintop cabin and watch the mist get touched by the sunrise than climb or rappel up the side of it so; yeah, I'm hearing what you said about coconut water. At least I like it. :)

  5. Actually, can't stop singing Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean..... I am sure you can imagine which side of the island I'll be on.... Great recipe! Can't wait to try it, (it is -10 degrees here right now so I need all the paradise I can get!)

  6. I've been thinking about making rice pudding recently, esp. as it is snowy cold in Scotland. But I have to admit, i am rushed on now as I am liking this coconut version.

  7. this sounds incredibly satisfying. I'd love to give it a try one of these days!

  8. Love the humor in your writing -- you most certainly did the coconut deities proud! May I ask where in Boston you get cardamom pods? This is the 3rd recipe I've seen this week that calls for them, so I think the cardamom gods may be after me... (perhaps they got together!)

  9. Both recipes sound great! What a wonderful idea to use coconut milk in them. That rice pudding is especially calling my name! I grew up on rice pudding, so this twist to it sounds great to me!
    Have a fantastic weekend!

  10. I hope everyone is staying warm! Burr.

    Hungry Crafter:
    So, I must confess, I bought cardamom pods right at Whole Foods (probably a little over a year ago), so I think that's why they are turning; they are old.

    If you happen to live in Inman Square by Christina's (of the amazing ice cream fame) you may want to check out their spice shop next door. The Dosa Factory, in Central Square, also sells Indian groceries and might have some.

    May all the gods, cardamom, coconut, or otherwise smile down on you! ;)

  11. good LORD, let's not even think about swimsuit season yet! :)

  12. I've never found coconut water anywhere. But where I live is very traditional - almost backwards so I'd have to make do with coconut milk. Nevermind!
    I really love the sound of the oriental rice pudding.

  13. Oh my...for those of us who love coconut water straight from the coconut...this is over the top! That + rice pudding = heaven. Fantastic post!

  14. Both dishes looks wonderful.

  15. I make kheer plenty but this version looks much more special. Happy to have found your blog. Seems we might like the same types of foods.

  16. I love rice pudding. I love coconut. So,you had me with your first picture. The pudding sounds delicious and the basmati rice also speaks my name. I'm new to your blog and have spent some time browsing through your earlier entries. I love the food and recipes you feature here and I'll be back often. I hope you have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  17. Hmmm - I can't live without coconut in my life. These recipes both look perfect to me :)

  18. Such a creative use of coconut water! I still have mine from yoga in my fridge, maybe I will attempt some rice pudding...

  19. I'm sorry folks. I just noticed a recipe error. It's supposed to be 1.5 cups of coconut water for the rice, instead of 1.25. I've tried to fix it but the formatting is getting all jumbled. Blast. Made the recipe again tonight. Still enjoyable though. ;)