vegan strawberry milk // thefirstmess.compin it!tools for dealing with fresh coconuts // thefirstmess.compin it!strawberries // thefirstmess.compin it!
The last thing I can remember being reasonably afraid of in terms of food preparation was young Thai coconuts. All the raw food books that I would pore over like bedtime reading material used them. The flavour, texture and functionality appeared to be unmatched. But knifing a coconut seemed like one big YES to blood everywhere in about 3 seconds. The photos used to illustrate how easy they were to breakdown didn’t help to calm my fears either. One of them shows the cook with one hand seemingly tied behind his back with a barely contained grimace taking over his face. GUESS HE WANTED THAT RAW CHOCOLATE PUDDING REAL BAD, HUH?

Over time, I learned that if there is a task in the kitchen that makes you second-guess your abilities, you have to confront it from 3 angles in order to achieve success. Keen preparation, confidence, and control–practiced over and over again until it feels natural.

Confidence is probably the deal-breaker though. There’s an episode of Action Bronson’s show on MUNCHIES where he visits Mario Batali at Eataly in New York (side note: uuuugh best place ever). Aside from basking in each others mutual awesomeness and hella drinking and eating all the good things, the two get up to some pizza making with a (gooooold!) wood-fired oven. They’re stretching the dough, talking about ideal topping-to-everything-else ratios and San Marzano tomatoes. Then it’s Action’s turn to get that pizza on a peel and into the flames. There’s hesitation permeating the atmosphere. Mario Batali says something like “If you think the dog’s going to bark and bite you, it probably will.” The pizza then proceeds to go off without a hitch.

Generally, if I have even the slightest inkling that I’m gonna eff something up, I probably will to some degree. Maybe you can relate since this notion goes well beyond the act of making food. You just have to imagine the scenario going as smoothly as possible–in this case, you can imagine all the tasty coconut milk you’re gonna make into some fiiiine and nourishing desserts. And the most delicious coconut water ever. Imagine that too.

What leads to that confidence though? Getting your shit lined up beforehand and being in complete control of the situation. You’ll need to lay out all the necessary tools and just completely clear your working area of any other stuff. You’re not going to tweet or ‘gram or answer an email right now (oops). It’s you, the knife and the coconut. About that knife: you want to use a chef’s knife, but not a terribly nice one that you’re attached to. I have the knives that I take care of and cherish, and then I have a set of cheap, old beaters that get used for things that I can’t guarantee the outcome on. Also, the blade doesn’t really get used for this particular task. You’re mostly using the heel of the knife in short, controlled movements to puncture the top of the coconut until you can pry the top off with a spoon. Don’t you feel at ease already?

If I’ve made the decision to bust into some coconuts and make a mess, I do a bunch at a time. I can always go through the water faster than you can say “Hydrate or die,” and the meat freezes nicely. Just put it into a ziploc-style baggy and press the air out of it first. If I don’t have set plans for some kind of fancy raw dessert, I usually make fresh coconut milk. It tastes totally different than the canned stuff. It’s not so super-tropical-suntan-lotion right away. It’s more delicate and legit dairy milk-like. The texture/weight of it is less overpowering too. Just a totally different beast.

I used to LOVE strawberry milk with that frighteningly red Quik syrup when I was a kid (omg they still sell it). And if I’m in a scenario where I can get a milkshake, I almost always choose strawberry. I’m not sure if it’s the fun colour or just the memories I have surrounding the treat itself, but strawberry’s been my go-to for so long. A healthier version of that hot pink milk from my childhood seemed fairly easy to execute as long as I started with a delicious base. Enter the coconut milk, babes!  I’ve left some pretty detailed instructions in the recipe and my first ever step-by-step collection of photos to help you break it down. You got this! ;)

how to break down young coconuts // thefirstmess.compin it!ingredients for vegan strawberry milk // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan strawberry milk // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan strawberry milk // thefirstmess.compin it!vegan strawberry milk // thefirstmess.compin it!
how to break down fresh coconuts + vegan strawberry milk recipe
print the recipe here!
serves: makes almost 4 cups of “milk”
notes: Most of this recipe is taken up with instructions on how to break down the fresh coconuts. If you want strawberry milk ASAP, you could just skip that part and use 3 cups of unsweetened coconut milk beverage (like the stuff in a carton) or cashew milk. You want something with a bit of fat :)

3 cups fresh coconut milk (from the flesh of 1-2 young Thai coconuts, about 3/4 cup)
heaped 1/2 cup chopped strawberries
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
pinch of fine sea salt

First, gather your supplies for extracting the coconut meat and water: a large cutting board, a fine mesh sieve, a dish for the coconut meat, a medium-sized bowl for the coconut water, a sturdy metal spoon, a plate for husks and other waste, a lightly damp dish towel, and a chef’s knife that you aren’t too sentimental about.

Place the coconut onto the cutting board on its side. Gently cut away the pointed portion of the husk in peels/sections so that the rounded top of the actual coconut is revealed. There shouldn’t be too much resistance. The exposed portion of coconut should be at least 2 inches in diameter when you’re done.

Place the coconut right side up on your cutting board and wrap your damp dish towel around the base to help hold it in place. Take the knife in your hand, placing your thumb and forefinger on either side of its heel, cradling the handle of the knife with the rest of your hand. You don’t need an iron-clad grip here.

Confidently and carefully lift the knife above the coconut (not too high!). Quickly bring the heel of the knife down onto the exposed portion of the coconut. If your aim is just so-so, refrain from using your other hand to steady the coconut–that’s why the towel is there. You might not puncture the coconut on the first try. Keep going until you do. Then, continue to lift and drop the heel of the knife down into the coconut until you’ve cut/punctured about 1/3 of a circle in the top of the coconut.

From here, you should be able to shimmy a spoon (facing upward) into the cut opening that you’ve created. Once you do, put a bit of weight onto the spoon’s handle to aid in prying off the natural circular “lid” that will form. Once you’ve released the lid, pull it off carefully. Empty the coconut water out into your bowl.

Return the coconut to the damp towel circle. Using the spoon, scrape the coconut meat off of the lid that you just removed and place it in a bowl. Discard the lid. To remove the meat from the coconut itself, face your spoon downward while pressing it down into the outer husk. Continue to scrape and remove pieces of meat from the side of the coconut. Once you’ve gotten every piece out, rinse the extracted coconut meat in the fine mesh sieve. Use meat immediately or store in a sealed container in the fridge.

You should have roughly 3/4-1 cup of coconut meat after breaking down one coconut. Place that meat in an upright blender and cover it with 3 cups of filtered water. Blend on high until you have a completely smooth mixture, about 1 1/2 minutes. Strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl. Rinse the blender pitcher. Return the strained milk to the blender along with the chopped strawberries, maple syrup, vanilla powder, and sea salt. Blend the mixture on high until completely smooth, about 1 minute.

Strain the strawberry milk through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl so that you can catch all the tiny strawberry seeds. Check the milk for sweetness and adjust if necessary. Store the milk in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

  • […] Why Drink It? – Chelsea CrockettPodcast: Hemp juice, the new contender to coconut water?on dealing with fresh coconuts + strawberry milk9 Insanely Refreshing Popsicles {that you and your kids will love!} — Traditional Cooking School […]ReplyCancel

  • valentina | sweet kabocha10/06/2015 - 4:56 am

    I love so much young coconut! I used to eat it when I lived in France, I could find it at the supermarket there! Here in Italy unfortunately is pretty unknown, therefore stores doesn’t sell it. So sad. And if you think “hey, you live in Italy, you have wonderful veggies and weather, would you change that for young coconuts?” I would say “yes!”. (I live in the northern Italy, where the weather is cold in winter and hot in summer, but always moist and best veggies are cultivated and sold only in the south!) You make me want a coconut right now so badly!! :(ReplyCancel

  • Libby10/06/2015 - 10:08 am

    This looks completely incredible.ReplyCancel

  • Alissa | The Solstice Table10/06/2015 - 10:17 am

    You’ve instilled me with confidence! I’m going to go buy a young coconut on my lunch break and get after it. I’ve done mature coconuts before but never a young one so wish me luck!ReplyCancel

  • Anna10/06/2015 - 10:31 am

    loove this!! thanks for sharing :)


  • Erin10/06/2015 - 11:46 am

    Your step by step illustration is super helpful! Gorgeous photos :)ReplyCancel

  • Jessie Snyder | Faring Well10/06/2015 - 2:20 pm

    YES – this has always terrified me but its one of those things I’ve been itching to do. Love your words on overcoming your fears – you gots to believe! Going to try this one day when Scott’s not home to spare him the freak out. As much as he loves me I know he likes me best with fingers still attached ;). Extra awesome points for the Leslie Knope fist pump, and strawberry milk for the WIN! I was all about that horrible syrup growing up too – yikes!ReplyCancel

  • Jessica DeMarra10/06/2015 - 6:12 pm

    I definitely lack the confidence, wimp out and make my boyfriend do it with his giant cleaver. On a resort, there was a man with a machete opening coconuts everyday for the guests. It was paradise! Loving these instructions and confidence boasters, I CAN do this!ReplyCancel

  • Tamanique10/06/2015 - 8:27 pm

    Thanks! This is really helpful. I’ve always wondered what a fresh coconut would taste like, versus all the canned stuff. And that strawberry milk looks and probably tasted so much better than the grocery store stuff!ReplyCancel

  • lynsey | lynseylovesfood.com11/06/2015 - 6:42 am

    oh i have never attempted this, but i feel like i need to get a belly full of confidence (like you said real or not- maybe some liquid courage?) and just go for it! love your step by step photos!! xoReplyCancel

  • Becca | Spices and Spatulas11/06/2015 - 7:59 am

    Thank you SO much for these instructions. I’ve always been so intimated by fresh coconuts, but you’ve given me the confidence (and the step-by-step photos) to just go for it..and then make some strawberry milk for a victory sip!ReplyCancel

  • Amy @ Parsley In My Teeth11/06/2015 - 9:47 am

    Fear of the coconut has kept me away from tackling it head on, so thanks very much for these instructions! Summer is looking much brighter now!ReplyCancel

  • Abby11/06/2015 - 11:49 am

    I love, LOVE this post, Laura! What stunning photos. And I agree… there’s just something about strawberry drinks. That color! <3ReplyCancel

  • Nicole11/06/2015 - 12:42 pm

    Is Munchies the best or what!?!!? Every time I watch an episode, I’m always mad that all food tv isn’t that good.ReplyCancel

  • Keara McGraw11/06/2015 - 10:14 pm

    Agh, the self-manifested eff-up – a little too familiar with that one! Love all the positive vibes here, and the photos are gorgeous as always. I feel ready to tackle some wild culinary goals with confidence :)ReplyCancel

  • Sarah | Well and Full12/06/2015 - 12:27 pm

    Your photos are so consistently stunning. And now I’m really craving strawberry mylk :) :)ReplyCancel

  • renee (will frolic for food)13/06/2015 - 4:25 pm

    there are no words to describe my obsession with young coconuts. the water, the meat. it’s in my top 5 favorite foods. my man and i are going to be selling fresh coconuts and coconut water at Floydfest here in Virginia and we’re really excited! there are almost 20k attendees. so you know i love this tutorial! and i just KNOW this recipe is bomb! fun fact, you can also open coconuts by puncturing the top with a sharp paring knife in just the right spot. in unshaved green coconuts you puncture one of the “eyes” at the top of the coconut. it’s a lot easier than shaving it down, surprisingly! then you just chop it in half with a machete. haha. and trust me i have dreams of blood spatter, but thankfully we know what we’re doing. xoReplyCancel

  • Stephanie15/06/2015 - 5:12 pm

    Do you think this would freeze well into a popsicle?ReplyCancel

    • Laura23/06/2015 - 3:23 pm

      I think that would actually be amazing :DReplyCancel

  • Paula16/06/2015 - 4:53 am

    It took you some time to prepare everything! But they all look amazing, especially in the final photos on the grass, amazing. I find it difficult to prepare, I don’t know if I have the patience.ReplyCancel

  • Susanne16/06/2015 - 4:26 pm

    That must taste a-ma-zing. I ‘ve never tried opening a coconut but I might just after seeing these pictures :)ReplyCancel

  • Diana19/06/2015 - 4:57 pm

    Hi Laura,
    I have tackled young cocnuts many times, motivated the first time by the desire to feed my dairy-intolerant son something akin to yogurt (add some probiotics, and it really is yogurt! :).
    But I still have one question, and maybe you know this: how can you tell a good one from one that has gone bad? Some say if the water is pinkish in hue, the coconut is spoiled. Other say brown spots on the outer husk are bad news. Or moldy spots on the husk. Any insight on this?ReplyCancel

    • Laura23/06/2015 - 3:27 pm

      I’ve heard that thing about the pink water/flesh as well. But I’ve also read that the pink hue just indicates a much younger coconut, which makes sense because the flesh always seems to be thinner when it’s pink. I’ve never discarded coconut water/flesh for being pink and I’ve never been sick outright. A company that I buy fresh coconut water from sometimes (Harmless Harvest) has pink-ish hued bottles in the mix, so I’m assuming this is perfectly fine.

      In terms of picking a good one though? I’m not sure. I’ve had good luck with coconuts when I try to pick the heavier ones in the mix, but that’s about all I can say for sure :)ReplyCancel

  • Heghineh21/06/2015 - 12:54 am

    Love your food photography and details, really helps,
    thank you so much for sharingReplyCancel

  • Crista26/06/2015 - 12:51 pm

    This post takes me back to a time when I sat on a beach in Costa Rica trying to open coconuts with a pocket knife, blood dripping down our fingers but quickly washed away by the ocean water…. In other news, I haven’t had strawberry milk in forever, forever – I see a coconutty weekend project in my future…ReplyCancel

  • […] The prettiest photos ever! […]ReplyCancel

  • […] ways, including using a chef’s knife (genius), or roasting in the oven. Also, Laura opened a young Thai coconut and made some delicious strawberry milk. I’m opening a “mature coconut” – those brown hairy […]ReplyCancel

  • […] open the coconut using this guide from The First Mess. Scrape out the meat (you should have about ½ cup) and add it to a blender. Strain 1 cup of […]ReplyCancel

  • […] ways, including using a chef’s knife (genius), or roasting in the oven. Also, Laura opened a young Thai coconut and made some delicious strawberry milk. I’m opening a “mature coconut” – those brown hairy […]ReplyCancel

  • […] Laura of The First Mess posted a great step-by-step tutorial for this last year! My method has evolved over the years and it’s essentially the same as Laura’s. The main difference is that I keep the coconut on it’s side as I’m cutting into the actual coconut shell (beyond the woody husk), which keeps the knife at the right angle to break into it quickly. […]ReplyCancel

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