Welcome to the new year, and to the first SOS Kitchen Challenge of 2011! It’s hard for me to believe that we’re already at January 4th–seems as if the HH and I just celebrated Christmas! Thanks, all, for your New Year’s wishes and for the great response to my call for recipe testers. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the response and will get back to everyone this week. I’m looking forward to cooking with you in 2011!
Now that the HH’s holiday from work is over (Canadians had a day off yesterday to compensate for New Year’s falling on a Saturday), it’s back to our regularly scheduled blogging. . . Kim and I are both refreshed after our holiday season, ready and raring to kick off this year’s SOS Challenges with a bang.
Our featured ingredient this month is something that both of us use almost daily in our kitchens. In fact, we’re both so coconuts for it that we want to share some with one lucky participant through a giveaway at the end of the month. This ingredient is versatile for cooking, baking, bath and body applications, and has some impressive nutritional and medicinal characteristics. It is a solid at some temperatures, and a liquid at others. And it smells like the tropics.
What could it be?
Drum roll please…
[Beautiful, white, fragrant chunks of coconut oil. Cold temperatures mean very solid oil! Photo courtesy of Kim. Used with permission.]
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of the coconut. High in lauric acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin K, coconut oil is definitely at the top of the “healthy fat” category. Don’t worry about the high saturated fat content–the high concentration of medium chain triglycerides in the oil are said to assimilate well, converting directly to energy in the body.
Although we can’t technically say that coconut oil has specific medicinal or curative properties, keep in mind that many of the naturally occurring properties of coconut oil such as lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid function as natural antimicrobial agents, and may help strengthen the immune system. Coconut oil is also very versatile for health and body applications; it can be used for oil pulling, topically as a moisturizer or massage oil, as a carrier oil for essential oils, and as a hair treatment (note: I’ve never actually tried oil pulling, though I would be willing to give it a go. The link was provided by Kim. But I did get a kick out of the second video on that page!).
Unlike olive oil or other popular plant oils like flax, sunflower, or canola, coconut oil is NOT destroyed or changed chemically from its original form by using low heat. The medium chain fatty acids present in coconut oil are very resistant to any change via heat. Even commercial oils heated to a very high temperature have their medium chain fatty acids kept intact. This makes coconut oil one of the best oils to use in cooking and baking, because it does not break down easily. It can be used as a replacement for butter in any recipe, since it often behaves much like butter (solid at room temperature and liquid when hot). It is also wonderful spread it on bread or muffins instead of butter; you can add a dollop to smoothies or hot chocolate; or melt it over cooked vegetables or grains. The uses are endless!
[Coconuts on a coconut palm tree in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo courtesy of Kim! Used with permission.]
Since many of Kim’s and my readers have food allergies or sensitivies, we want to share a note regarding the allergenic potential of coconut. Coconut must be labeled on food packaging as a tree nut, according to regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
On the other hand, neither the EU nor Canada considers coconut as a tree nut for food labeling purposes. Botanically, the latter is more accurate – coconuts come from coconut palm trees, are not closely related to most other tree nuts, and technically, they are the seed of a fruit, not a nut. While you can’t simply rely on botanical relationships to determine the potential cross-reactivity between two foods, those foods which are close biological relatives generally share related allergenic proteins (like cashews, mangos, and pistachios).
That being said, there is some evidence of cross-reactivity between coconuts and hazelnuts and between coconuts and walnuts, which is strange because those trees are not at all closely related. However, allergies to coconuts are believed to be far less common than allergies to many true tree nuts, such as walnuts, cashews and almonds, a point with which the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network agrees. A June 2007 study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology indicated cross-reactivity between coconuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts in one patient. Your allergist can advise you on the suitability of coconut for your diet.
I don’t have allergies to tree nuts and am fine with coonut, too, but I know that many readers require substitutions for coconut; it will be different for everyone. However, for many of us with dietary restrictions, coconut is a nourishing addition to our diet, and it makes an excellent substitute for dairy butter in most recipes. [see References at bottom of post for sources]
THIS MONTH’S GIVEAWAY
This month, we’re giving away a jar of beautiful organic coconut oil to a lucky SOS participant. To learn how you can enter to win, click here.
TO ENTER THE CHALLENGE, link up your healthy vegan recipe with coconut oil. Please be sure to adhere to the SOS Kitchen Challenge General Guidelines, posted here.
And to get you in the mood for coconut oil-based recipes, here’s my first contribution to this month’s challenge: ACD-Friendly, High Protein, No-Cook Snackin’ Orbs!
This recipe was inspired by one posted on the forums at the Whole Approach website. As those of you who’ve been following my anti-candida journey might know, Whole Approach has been my primary guide for the diet I’ve followed since March, 2009 (that’s right–almost two years! I’ll be posting more about my diet and an ACD Update later in the week–stay tuned).
These snacks offer a great protein boost in the form of portable little spheres (I just can’t bring myself to call them “balls,” ever since that classic Christmas skit aired on Saturday Night Live). Halfway between a protein bar and a raw truffle, they’re sweet (but not too sweet), chewy and a little crunchy. I played around with various combinations of seeds, powders and protein sources (all rice protein-based) to find what worked best for my tastes. I’ve added my two favorite variations at the end.
I’ve found myself snacking on these in the afternoon or biting into them for breakfast. There’s only one caveat: when the HH tasted these, he remarked that they tasted “healthy.” Those of you who whip up hemp protein smoothies for breakfast likely know what that means. If you’re the kind of person who likes an extra-thick (and perhaps green) smoothie in the morning, you’ll really enjoy these.
[On the left: hemp seed-lucuma-coconut variation. On the right: sesame seed-carob-pumpkinseed.]
The beauty of these orbs is that they’re portable–they stay firm at room temperature and can be packed in plastic wrap or a container for later consumption, or grab a few on your way out the door in the morning and feel confident that you’ve started your day with a good portion of your protein requirements. Alternately, press the “dough” into a pan, refrigerate, and cut into bars.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) coconut flour
3 Tbsp (45 ml) carob powder (or use lucuma powder or a mix of carob and mesquite)
1/8-1/4 tsp (.25 ml to .5 ml) stevia powder or more, to your taste, depending on how sweet your rice protein is (I used NuNaturals)*
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon, optional
1/2 cup (120 ml) finely ground flax seeds or flax seed meal
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (or use hemp seeds)
1/2 cup (120 ml) pumpkin seeds (or use sunflower seeds or unsweetened dried shredded coconut)
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened carob chips, optional
1/2 cup (120 ml) nut or seed butter (natural almond, hazelnut, walnut, sunflower, pumpkinseed, etc.)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) unrefined coconut oil, preferably organic
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract (or use 1/2 tsp/2.5 ml almond or orange extract)
3/4 cup (180 ml) water or unsweetened milk alternative (soy, almond or rice),or a bit more, as needed
In a medium bowl, sift together the coconut flour, protein powder, carob powder, stevia and cinnamon, if using. Add the flax, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and carob chips, if using, and stir to distribute the seeds and chips evenly.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot melt together the nut butter and coconut oil over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and water until smooth. Pour the nut mixture over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine; it should come together and be slightly moist and smooth, like a cookie dough.
Using a small ice cream scoop or teaspoon, scoop the dough and form into balls. Place on a plate in the refrigerator until chilled and firm, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Alternately, press into a greased or parchment paper-lined 8 or 9 inch (20-22.5 cm) square pan; refrigerate until firm and then cut into bars. Makes 6-10 servings for breakfast (4-5 orbs per serving) or 24-30 snackin’ orbs.
Carob-Pumpkinseed Variation: Use sesame seeds, vanilla protein powder, carob powder, almond butter, pumpkin seeds and water options
Lucuma-Coconut Variation: Use hemp seeds, plain protein powder, lucuma powder, sunflower seed butter, coconut, and unsweetened almond milk options
*NOTE: If you are at a later stage of the ACD or can use other sweeteners, up to 2 Tbsp (30 ml) agave or yacon may be used in place of some of the stevia.
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Source: Tropical Traditions FAQ
Source: Tree Nut AllergiesOverview: Tree nuts include macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts (pignoli or pinon), gingko nuts and hickory nuts. Like peanut and shellfish allergies, tree nut allergies tend to be severe, and are strongly associated with anaphylaxis. Walnuts and cashews are the two tree nuts that cause the most allergic reactions. At least 90 percent of children diagnosed with tree nut allergies will have them for life.
Source: Is Coconut A Tree Nut?Question: Is Coconut a Tree Nut? Answer: That’s a surprisingly complicated question. If you ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the answer is “yes:” a food containing coconuts is required to be labeled “contains tree nuts” under FALCPA.
Allergic reactions Allergic reactions are severe adverse reactions that occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a particular allergen. These reactions may be caused by food, insect stings, latex, medications and other substances. In Canada, the nine priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood (fish, crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat and sulphites (a food additive).
Source: Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Last Year at this Time: Yin for Yang: My Mother’s Marble Cake (not GF; ACD maintenance only)
Two Years Ago: A Fresh Start. . . and 2008’s Last (Food-Related) Hurrah (Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce and Chickpea Pancakes)
Three Years Ago: Pear and Ginger Mini-Loaves or Muffins (not GF; ACD maintenance only)