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Everyone's a winner with coconuts

July 24, 2012 - Carla Tracy

Coconuts are on my mind this week as I recently attended the inaugural Niu Festival at Grand Wailea on Maui’s sunny south shore.

It was a hot and sunny day under the palms, but we cooled off with icy cold juices from freshly husked Hawaiian nuts.

At the Coconut Cook-off held as part of the festival on Saturday, Maui Culinary Academy’s student-chef Kristin Dougherty of Kahului won the first place Gold Coconut for her dessert entry and a second place Silver Coconut for her main dish entry.

Her dessert was coconut creme brulee with coconut short bread touille, while her main dish, sous-vide coconut mahi sausage with citrus hearts of palm salad and taro-coconut brioche, also wowed the judges, including KITV’s Emmy Award winning news anchor, Pamela Young; James Beard Award winner, Alan Wong; and Grand Wailea’s executive chef, Eric Faivre.

“It was a little intimidating to have Pamela Young and two famous chefs tasting my dishes, but it was also a lot of fun,” says Kristin.

The first place Gold Coconut in the main dish category was won by Kristine Snyder of Kihei for her mahimahi laulau with shiitake-coconut risotto and fresh coconut sauce, a take on a Hawaiian favorite.

Young flew in from Oahu to judge the contest and shortly after the winners were named, she rushed back to Honolulu to anchor the 6 o’clock news.

“I hope the Niu Festival has a very long life,” she said, “It is such a fun event.”

Speaking of coconuts, Kung Fu Plaza, which is the oldest Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, is the first one there to add young coconut as a special. According to general manager, Alan Wong (no relation to the above-mentioned famous chef in Hawaii), the Las Vegas restaurant decided to add young coconut as part of its effort to introduce the natural health benefits of Asian cuisine.

“Young coconuts have long been regarded for their nutritious and detoxification properties because the water they contain takes nine months to be filtered and stored away in the nut,” says Wong. “The science is sound. It is more nutritious than whole milk but contains no cholesterol and is healthier than orange juice with fewer calories.”

Young coconut is starting to become a healthy alternative to the abundance of energy drinks on the market, according to Morton Satin, chief of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Coconut is the very stuff of nature, biologically pure, full of natural sugars, salts, and vitamins that ward off fatigue,” Satin says. “And it is the next wave of energy drinks.”

One of the reasons he made the claim, according to the press release, was because coconut water has high levels of electrolytes and potassium, between three and five times more than energy and sports drinks. But unlike energy drinks, it has no chemicals or preservatives, states the press release.

“I think young coconut would have taken off much faster in the United States if it could have been packaged,” said Wong. “But the almost magical properties of young coconut dissipate when the water is exposed to air. You cannot package it. You have to enjoy it fresh from the coconut itself.”

After patrons at the restaurant enjoy the fresh coconut water, they scoop out and eat the coconut meat, said to contain healing properties because of the high amount of lauric acid.

”Although lauric acid has been found to increase total cholesterol, the increase is attributed to the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. Lauric acid is proven to have positive effects on the cardiovascular system, and helps the body produce monolaurin, which research has shown to help the immune system.”

“There have been many remedies attributed to young coconut for hundreds and hundreds of years in Southern Asia,” said Wong. “It is one of the many reasons that Thai cooking incorporates coconut milk into many of its recipes. But young coconut is more powerful because it is served fresh, right from the coconut.”

Founded in 1973, Kung Fu Plaza, also known as Kung Fu Thai & Chinese Restaurant to its regular patrons. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. The average entree is under $10 and most patrons order family style. It is the newest of Las Vegas restaurants to become 100 percent Angus Beef Certified, and the only Asian restaurant to receive this certification. To review a menu, visit Kung Fu Plaza Website. It’s located at 3505 S. Valley View Blvd., which is just east of the Fashion Show Mall on the Las Vegas Strip. It delivers within a three-mile radius. For reservations, call (702)-247-4120.


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Young coconuts offer major health benefits