The "land of smiles" is also the land of kick-boxing; a society that places the utmost regard for the monastic life of Buddha also revels in the gilded, lavishly lacquered art of the palaces. The feminine touch of coconut can be felt within a single dish, such as in a gaeng (curry) or dtom (soup), where coconut milk coats the tongue after the unbearable bite of chiles, or in a larger context - in the rhythm of the gastronomical day in various small meals or snacks. Very often, the savory, sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and umami elements all play within one dish. A sweet snack, khanom (meaning cakes or confections) brings relief on a hot day after a hot, spicy meal. Western medicine is beginning to understand that the fats in coconut milk, although saturated, contain at least 50 percent lauric acid, which carries anti-microbial and antiviral properties. [...] according to lipid scientist Mary Enig, coconut oil converts directly into energy without being stored as fat. Dietary scientists find the Thai diet an enigma (calling it the "Thai Paradox") because while Thais generally consume these saturated "tropical" fats, they score low rates of obesity and heart disease, according to Enig. [...] the back of the house is where coconuts reside in a Southeast Asian market, close to where bulging sacks of rice stack up to the ceiling. The skimmed cream may be saved for a simple bowl of tiny tapioca pearls to be had in mid-afternoon or as a bedtime snack, slightly sweet and floating in a pool of pure-white, salted cream. After steaming it to a chewy, roof-of-the-mouth- sticking consistency, she tops with it a snowy cap of coconut cream, which she earlier has skimmed off and salted. In the West, air is whipped into dairy cream to give body, in Southeast Asia, a pinch of rice flour is worked in and cooked, giving it the strength to hold its shape but the weakness to make it fragile in the mouth. PLAYFUL SWEETOr, a cook might create a colorful playful, gelled base (made with agar) scented with jasmine flowers or pandanus leaves, and top it with coconut cream. Almost always, a generous pinch of salt flavors the rich, nutty coconut cream, profiling the classic play of salty and sweet. (Remember, the room temperature of a kitchen in the tropics is likely to be around 80 degrees.) Stir until the lumps smooth out. The fresh milk was neutral in taste but nutty in aroma, with complex flavor notes from the natural enzymes and salts in coconut. Like dairy milk or cream, it hints at both directions -- toward a savory dish or sweet dessert. Stir ingredients together in a double boiler over simmering water until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a 4-cup ceramic mold or four 4-ounce ramekins and steam, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes, or until the custard is set. Or, you can bake the custard in a water bath (1 inch of water) in a 325 degrees oven for about 20 minutes, or until the custard just sets. PER SERVING: 410 calories, 7 g protein, 49 g carbohydrate, 22 g fat (18 g saturated), 106 mg cholesterol, 483 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. RUBIES UNDER SHAVED ICE This belongs in the class of refreshing Thai desserts that are topped by a mass of shaved ice. The bottom consists of delicate fruit, cooked beans or gelatins, often in pastel colors, that lend texture. About 1 cup pomegranate juice (with a nice red color), or 1/4 teaspoon red food coloring dissolved in 1 cup water, or 1 cup Torani raspberry syrup Soak the diced water chestnuts in the pomegranate juice or colored water overnight, or until they are tinted rose- red. Put the tapioca flour on a sheet of wax paper and dump the water chestnuts onto it. Working in batches, add the water chestnuts to the boiling water and cook until the pink pieces float to the surface, about 1 minute. [...] place the rubies in shallow ice cream dishes or pretty dessert bowls. PER SERVING: 170 calories, 2 g protein, 27 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (6 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 58 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. The topping also is classic: smooth, rich coconut cream that barely holds its shape and functions like a dollop of whipped cream in Western desserts. Set the cups on the rack in the wok, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the batter has set and is translucent. Serve warm or at room temperature. PER CUP: 90 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 6 g fat (5 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 29 mg sodium, 1 g fiber. . The recipe works best in an old- fashioned ice-cream freezer that uses ice and salt around the canister. Because coconut cream is so high in saturated fat and because it is generally not homogenized, the molecules seize up and form tiny granules of hard fat, which freeze if the sorbet is made in an ice-free ice-cream maker. If you plan to make this in an ice-free ice-cream maker, halve the ingredients. 4 cups frozen coconut milk (Anahaw brand), thawed in the refrigerator, or canned coconut milk Follow the ice-cream maker's instructions for ripening or firming the ice cream once it is done. PER SERVING: 300 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 29 g fat (26 g saturated), 0 cholesterol, 87 mg sodium, 2 g fiber. . COCONUT TUILESIn Thailand, street vendors typically sell coconut ice cream atop a section of French bread. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature Put a nonstick liner (such as Silpat) on a baking sheet, or use a nonstick baking sheet. PER COOKIE: 70 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat (4 g saturated), 6 mg cholesterol, 8 mg sodium, 0 fiber.