‘Tumba Coco’ is the slightly comical name of a village in San Juan de la Maguana province, and can also be a derogatory term for a simple person. I heard someone once criticising a village school for ‘only being able to teach the kids to knock down coconuts’. But this is not a job to be undertaken by just anyone. Watch the people who scale up a coconut palm to knock down the nuts and see if you dare follow in their nimble footsteps!
Or not, and just enjoy this delicious guandules guisados con coco (pigeon peas with coconut) a delight from the Samaná region.
Coconuts grow in abundance practically everywhere in the Dominican Republic, but when you approach the Samaná peninsula the landscape becomes a riot of coconut palms. Not surprisingly, the coconut and its derivatives have become an integral part of Dominican cuisine.
The most popular coconut dishes are:
- Camarones en salsa de coco - prawns in coconut sauce. The more common version, typical of the Samaná region, is fish in coconut sauce, but prawns add a touch of extra class to this succulent feast. Another variant is crab in coconut sauce.
- Moro de guandules con coco and Guandules con coco (accompanied by white rice) are common all over the country. The Moro is usually served on special occasions, like weddings and Christmas dinner.
- Dulce de coco is a favourite dessert.
- Pan de coco is a flat bread with a subtle coconut flavour sold on the roadsides (see our leavened version), beaches and restaurants of the Samaná peninsula.
- Agua de Coco/Coco Frio is everywhere! Sold on the streets, the roadsides, the beaches it makes the most refreshing drink. Split the nut open and eat the jelly-like pulp with a ‘spoon’ fashioned from the top of the shell after drinking the water. Yummy! Unfortunately the drink is being displaced in some shopping centres by a commercial, bottled version, which makes a mockery of the natural experience of drinking the sweet, cool water straight from the coconut. It is beyond me why someone would want to generate more plastic waste in such an unnecessary way, and why consumers are willing to pay more for drinking it out of plastic.
Coconut milk/creamed coconut is the ingredient used in some of these dishes. It is available tinned. There is a sweetened and unsweetened version, so make sure you buy the sugar-free creamed coconut for savoury dishes. The sweetened one is good for drinks like Piña colada. What I haven’t found here is grated/desiccated coconut: I expect people here just grate a dried coconut (coco seco).
Unfortunately fresh coconuts cannot be exported as they do not last long enough, so those of us who live in areas where coconuts cannot be grown can only buy the dry version. I have often wondered why coconuts do not grow in the Mediterranean, where date palms rule. I think the long dry summers and the cool winters are responsible for this. Certainly the only coconut palms I have seen in that region are ornamental.
Am I the only one here who has crossed continents with two fresh coconuts in my backpack? My mother is passionate about agua de coco so I have on more than one occasion challenged customs laws by carrying this precious contraband over to her. But as security checks become more stringent I will not be doing this in the future, and I have informed my mother that she has to overcome her aversion to long-haul flights and visit us here, if only to drink her beloved agua de coco.
Guandules con Coco is a recipe from the Samaná region. It is one of our favorite recipes, one guaranteed to delight your guests.
- 2 cups of dry green pigeon peas, boiled very soft
- 2 cups of unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups of diced auyama (West Indies pumpkin)
- 3 sprigs of cilantro, minced
- 1 bell pepper, cut into small pieces
- 1 smal onion, cut into quarters
- 4 thyme sprigs
- 2 yellow lantern pepper (gustosos, cachuchas, ajicitos) crushed (optional)
- 2 tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, mashed
- A pinch of oregano
- Separate the pigeon peas from the water in which it boiled. Reserve both.
- In a pot heat the oil over low heat.
- Add onion and cook and stir until it becomes transparent.
- Add oregano, garlic, bell pepper, yellow lantern pepper and thyme.
- Cook and stir for a minute
- Add the pigeon peas. Cook and stir for a minute.
- Mash the pigeon peas over heat.
- Add the coconut milk and three cups of water.
- Add the auyama and boil over medium heat until the pumpkin is cooked through and the peas reach a creamy consistency, adding more water if it becomes necessary.
- Season with salt to taste.
- Serve with arroz blanco, salad and meat or seafood.
No pigeon peas? Tough luck, as there is no substitute for its smoky flavor. If you absolutely must do without it I have found mung beans to be the closest in flavor and texture.