This recipe for traditional Thai coconut balls is all about the coconut. First, skip the preshredded stuff (the filling won't hold together with it) and get yourself to the produce department for a fresh one. Look for a coconut with a brown husk (rather than one with a white fibrous exterior, often labeled "young Thai" coconut). Brown-husked coconuts have firmer flesh that's easier to shred. Editor's note: Brooke Siem learned to make these coconut balls from a woman named Ratachanee on the Thai island of Koh Phangan. Learn more about this recipe and other recipes Siem learned to make as part of her Grandmother Project in the article How Cooking Connected One Chef with Grandmothers Across the World.
To shred fresh coconut, use a clean screwdriver or drill to make holes in several of the "eyes" (indentations in the coconut shell). Drain the liquid and reserve for another use. Tap the coconut all over with a hammer until it splits open. (If the coconut does not break easily, bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and tap again.) Pry the coconut meat from the shell with a blunt knife. Peel away the thin brown skin with a vegetable peeler. Shred the coconut meat using a box grater or food processor shredding disk. One coconut yields 3 to 4 cups shredded coconut.
Palm sugar, a mildly caramel-flavored sweetener popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, is made from the sap of palm trees. They're tapped like maple trees are. You will find it online in both its granulated and solid brick form—the latter is what we use in this recipe.
Glutinous rice flour, found in Asian and specialty stores, is made from short-grain glutinous rice. Despite its name, this rice doesn't contain gluten. Instead, the word refers to its high starch content, which becomes sticky when heated. It's commonly used to make dumplings and many Asian desserts.
To make ahead
Store airtight at room temperature for up to 1 day. Steam to reheat.