Imagine sourcing a fresh, young coconut as part of the taste, texture, and appearance of a simple shrimp curry, both for the ingredients it provides and as a container. The sweet, pudding-like coconut flesh is scooped out and used in the pureed sauce, along with the tasty coconut water that’s used to achieve a just-right consistency. Once the concoction comes together, it’s sealed up in the young coconut and cooked in the oven. Delicious and stunning. Innovative yet comforting.
That’s one example of the out-of-the-box culinary vision of India-born Shachi Mehra, executive chef-owner of Adya, with locations in the Anaheim Packing House and Irvine. She creates contemporary takes on Indian street food and rich curries, as well as tandoori specialties. They are dishes that reflect modern India.
Her mentor was the world-renowned chef/restaurateur Floyd Cardoz of Manhattan’s Tabla and Bread Bar, who sadly recently passed away. After working at Bread Bar’s garde manger station (cold food chef), she became the restaurant’s head cook in the open kitchen. Being “on stage” for the clientele was a great learning experience; she had to manage the kitchen and supervise the line cooks while simultaneously interacting with guests.
Recently she received national attention after emerging in first place on Food Network’s Chopped! On the heels of her victory, she was named 2019 Rising Star Chef in Orange County’s Golden Foodie Awards, a people’s choice competition.
Watch the video to see her mastery of employing a fresh, young coconut to make an irresistible shrimp curry. Watch her chip away at the coconut’s top and muscle off the lid. And if young coconuts are new to you, read the cook’s notes in the recipe that follows.
Restaurant Faves: She likes to try all the new eateries in O.C. Some of her favorites include The Ranch in Anaheim, where she loves everything but always strives to save room for dessert, as well as Vaca in Costa Mesa for cocktails and snacks.
At-Home Breakfast: Overnight chia pudding is a new standby. It’s made by combining chia seeds with coconut milk and leaving the concoction in the fridge overnight. She tops it with cinnamon and fresh blueberries, and sometimes maple syrup. And coffee is a must, although some days she is so busy that it takes her three hours to finish it.
Home Freezer Bounty: Broccoli (blanched before frozen), dosa batter (something like an Indian-style crepe), and ice cream such as the Coffee Oreo from Han’s.
Testudines Collector: Her turtle-themed objets d’art collection keeps growing because friends and relatives continue gifting them. She entertains children who visit with a “count the turtles” game.
Drink of Choice: Gin and tonic made with Fever Tree tonic and Tanqueray Sevilla Orange.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
Chef Shachi’s Shrimp Curry Cooked in Young Coconuts
Yield: 2 generous servings
Dough: 1/2 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup water
2 fresh young coconuts, cracked open (see video); some markets sell them already opened at the top
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 serrano chile, chopped, see cook’s notes
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
Cook’s notes: Fresh, young coconuts are immature (without a hard shell); they have soft pudding-like flesh. Most often they are trimmed down to the white husk, shaved into a cylinder with a pyramid point on top and covered in plastic wrap. Watch the video to see the great way that Chef Shachi removes the lid. There is also a product called a Coco Jack designed to open the top of a young coconut.
Use caution when working with fresh chilies. Upon completion, wash hands and work surface and do NOT touch your face or eyes.
- Prepare dough; combine flour and water in small bowl. Stir to combine or mix with clean fingers; set aside. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Crack open the coconuts at the top to remove “lid;” save the coconut water and the lids. Scoop out about a 1/2 cup of the soft coconut meat from each coconut. Set aside.
- In medium sauté pan, heat oil until shimmering on medium-high heat. Add onion with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until translucent and softened. Add ginger and garlic; cook until golden brown. Allow to cool about 5 minutes. Puree the soft coconut meat, onion mixture, serrano chile, mustard powder, and turmeric, adding the reserved coconut water as needed to make a finely pureed mixture (she used a heavy-duty blender.) Pour puree into a large bowl. Adjust seasoning if necessary and thin out with coconut water if too thick. Stir in shrimp to coat.
- Spoon mixture into each coconut, leaving about 1 inch of space at the top. Place the tops on coconuts. Roll dough into a rope long enough to wrap around lid and seal with dough. Place on rimmed baking sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If you have a convection oven, bake for 20 to 25 minutes with the fan on.
Source: Shachi Mehra, executive chef-owner of Adya at the Anaheim Packing House and Irvine
–Photos and video by Curt Norris