By Valaer Murray
There's a new cooking oil on the scene, and it's making quite a splash. With the recent buzz about coconut oil, we had to see for ourselves how this new "superfood" actually fits into our culinary repertoire. Sure, using it is said to regulate blood sugar and help with weight loss, but making it work in the kitchen takes some forethought. Though subtle, its nutty, creamy taste doesn't pair with everything, so envision dishes that combine sweet and savory flavors and or use it when cooking proteins like chicken, pork, tofu, shrimp, and fish.
Coconut oil is a natural choice for baking, especially in desserts that you are trying to put a healthy spin on, like these vegan oatmeal cookies from Oh She Glows. But knowing it would be a shame to stop there, we thought the next logical step would be breakfast foods. Indeed, our experiment using virgin coconut oil to fry up some blueberry pancakes was a complete success.
The trace taste of the oil enhanced the classic pairing of blueberry and pancake, but I really loved how the golden bits had a bit of crunch that is hard to achieve with vegetable oil while still being the perfect texture inside. I'd love to experiment with coconut flour, so next time, I'm going to try this creative recipe from The Roasted Root for citrus coconut pancakes. I'm also planning to use coconut oil the next time I make French toast as well, or take this quickie "crepe": on a hot flat skillet drizzle a little coconut oil, lay down a large whole wheat or rice tortilla and heat on both sides then spread a spoonful of almond butter on one half then 3 or 4 sliced strawberries and a palmful of blueberries top. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon then fold in half.
It goes without saying that the oil melds perfectly with dishes that use coconut flour or coconut milk, so I whipped up a batch of shrimp and tofu coconut curry. It's a basic recipe that I use with whatever vegetables and proteins I have on hand.
Shrimp and Tofu Coconut Curry
3 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups whole baby carrots
2 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups cubed zucchini
1/2 pound cleaned raw shrimp
4 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon whole coriander
1 cup onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 cup diced green pepper
3 cups kale, chopped
8 ounces firm tofu, cubed
1 14-ounce can light coconut milk
Salt to taste
Cilantro for garnish (optional)
In a stockpot, bring broth to a boil and add the carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, shrimp and 3 tablespoons of curry powder (reserving 1 tablespoon for later) and simmer on medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a skillet and on low heat toast the cumin, allspice, turmeric and coriander and 1 tablespoon of the curry powder for a minute or so then turn up the heat to medium and add the onions, garlic and ginger and saute until they begin to sweat.
Add the green pepper and saute for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add to the stockpot. Turn the curry down to a low simmer and add to the stockpot the kale and tofu then slowly stir in the coconut milk. Taste and season with salt accordingly.
Allow to simmer on low for another 5 minutes then remove from heat. Serve with rice.
For me, there are certain tropical cuisines, like Indian, in which the coconut oil makes perfect sense. I'd include Thai as well as various Caribbean cuisines such as Cuban and Jamaican on that list, so it made sense to use coconut oil for a big pot of rice and beans, one of the greatest of all comfort food dishes that, served with a grilled portabella mushroom cap, makes for a hearty vegetarian dinner.
Black Beans and Rice
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup green pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained
1 6-ounce can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon beer or vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 cups rice, uncooked
1 cup water
In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the coconut oil and sauté the onions and garlic until they begin to sweat. Add the green pepper and sauté for a couple of minutes before adding the tomato.
Turn down to medium heat and add the oregano, cumin, bay leaf, salt, and red pepper flakes, then stir in the beans, tomato paste, and beer or vinegar. Depending on the type of rice being used, add both the uncooked rice and water, stir and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low until the rice is fully cooked. Remove the bay leaf, fluff the rice and beans, and serve with a wedge of lime.
Here are some other healthy, creative recipes that make great use of coconut oil:
-Zucchini Noodles in Thai Peanut Sauce (Eating Bird Food)
-Asparagus and Raspberry Black Rice Salad (The Healthy Apple)
-Tofu Stroganoff (Peas and Crayons)
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Photos by Valaer Murray
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