Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
Have you noticed more coconut based products available these days? From coconut water and coconut milk to coconut oil, it seems that the delicious coconut is taking over in the food, beauty and health food aisles. But it really isn’t a new phenomenon, coconut is a pretty common ingredient. I think it is just that we are catching on to the benefits of the little coconut.
It’s a Tough Nut to Crack
One of the more intimidating features of the coconut is the fact that it is so hard to crack open. In trying to find an easy way to open a coconut, I have seen many online videos utilizing everything from a power saw to a metal mallet to get at the tender meat.
The easiest way I have found to open a coconut uses a hot oven, not a power saw. I saw Martha Stewart demonstrate this method on a cooking show years ago. Unfortunately, she does not have a You Tube video out on the technique. However, Gourmet Magazine does. I have used this method countless times to open a coconut. It really does work.
A quick note on choosing your coconut: when you choose a coconut, look for one whose shell is intact. Do not buy a cracked or open coconut—the meat is most likely dry.
Also, shake it! Listen for the sound of sloshing juice inside. If you cannot hear or feel the liquid moving around inside, choose a different one. Coconuts fall from the tree full of liquid that is sweet and yummy to drink. As it sits, the coconut juice evaporates. If you shake it and there is not any liquid, it is an old coconut. Try a different one instead.
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Cooking with coconut oil has been a standard cooking tradition for centuries among Asian and Pacific Island populations. In addition, studies have shown that cooking with coconut oil may have an array of health benefits:
- Easy to digest: The molecules of coconut oil are easily broken down by saliva and gastric juices making it easy for individuals who have trouble producing the pancreatic enzymes necessary for easy digestion.
- Healthy Hearts: Many people who consume coconut oil on a regular basis have the lowest rate of heart disease. The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil help to raise good cholesterol and lower the bad cholesterol.
- Anti-aging Benefits: Coconut oil help fight the free radicals that cause wrinkles, sagging and premature aging of skin.
Coconut is essential for some recipes: coconut shrimp, coconut cream pie, ambrosia. These dishes just are not the same without the coconut. Hollywood has even depicted the horror the lack of coconut in a dish like ambrosia can cause. Hint: Think “Driving Miss Daisy,” when Florine, Miss Daisy’s daughter-in-law, cries out in exasperation, “Maybe you can figure out how to serve ambrosia to 50 people without coconut, I give up!” ()
Try these delicious recipes featuring the delicious coconut.
Chocolate Cherry Magic Bars
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup finely chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans or almonds
Pinch of Kosher salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups (12 ounces) bittersweet (or semi) chocolate chunks or chips
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 1/2 cups coconut
1 cup chopped nuts, such as walnuts, pecans or almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack positioned in the bottom third of the oven. Lightly butter a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
To make the crust: In a small mixing bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, chopped nuts and salt. Pour the melted butter over the crumb mixture and stir to combine. Press the mixture firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
To make the filling: Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer with the chocolate chunks, cherries, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly on the entire surface using the palms of your hands.
Bake until lightly browned and bubbling around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Serve at room temperature.
Enjoy crispy shrimp rolled in a coconut beer batter!
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup beer
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups flaked coconut
1-1/2 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails attached
3 cups vegetable oil for frying
These crispy shrimp are rolled in a coconut beer batter before frying. For dipping sauce, I use orange marmalade, mustard, and horseradish mixed to taste. In medium bowl, combine egg, 1/2 cup flour, beer, and baking powder. Place 1/4 cup flour and coconut in 2 separate bowls.
Hold shrimp by tail and dredge in flour, shaking off excess flour. Dip in batter; allow excess to drip off. Roll shrimp in coconut and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Heat oil to 350 F (175 C) in a deep fryer.
Fry shrimp in batches. Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown, turning once. Using tongs, remove shrimp to paper towels to drain. Serve warm with your favorite dipping sauce.
Yield: 6 servings
Note: Serve Coconut Shrimp with a simple sauce. Mix together 3/4 cup orange marmalade, 1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard, 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish, and 1/4 cup honey.
Curried Squash Soup With Lemongrass and Coconut Milk
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 pounds yellow summer squash, sliced
2 teaspoon each minced fresh ginger and garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, smashed, cut into 3″ long pieces
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
Chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish
In a medium ovenproof pot, heat a thin film of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute until translucent. Add squash, another pinch of salt and saute until tender, being careful not to brown. Add the ginger, garlic and lemongrass and saute until fragrant. Stir in pepper flakes and curry powder and cook until fragrant.
Stir in the coconut milk and enough broth to just cover the vegetables. Cover, reduce heat to very low, and simmer to meld flavors, about 5 minutes.
Remove the lemongrass stalks and puree the soup using a stick or stand blender. Strain through a strainer into a clean pot. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot or cold, garnished with chopped cilantro.
Asparagus Coconut Crepes with Sweet Chili
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1 clove garlic , minced
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
2 red chilies, finely chopped
1/4 cup salted, roasted peanuts, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 cup water
Oil for cooking
4 scallions , finely sliced
1 bunch asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
12 cooked shrimp, cleaned, deveined, shelled and chopped
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together honey, soy sauce, and lime juice. Stir in garlic, ginger, chilis and chopped peanuts. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together coconut milk, water, chickpea flour, rice flour, salt and turmeric. Batter should be thin. Add extra water a little at a time to reach crepe batter consistency, if needed.
Using a steaming basket, steam asparagus for 3-5 minutes until tender crisp.
Using a crepe pan or nonstick frying pan over medium heat, brush pan with thin coating of oil. Depending on size of pan, pour about 1/4 cup of batter into the pan, and tilt pan to spread the batter across the cooking surface. Sprinkle with sliced scallion and chopped shrimp before batter is completely set. Cook 2 minutes and flip. Cook additional 1 to 2 minutes until light brown. Remove from heat. Continue in the same manner until all of the batter is cooked.
Divide the steamed asparagus among the crepes. Wrap each bundle of asparagus in hot crepe, and serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to enjoy coconut?