[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at RH: I’ll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. For this fourth entry, I’m focusing on Coconut. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. ]
Well, folks, it’s been quite the day here at the RH household. This post may be a tad longer than usual, so relax, don those fuzzy slippers, curl up by the firewall, and read on . . .
The day started out almost like any other, except that the HH, suffering from a bout of the flu, was at home. Knowing he needed something substantial and nourishing–and fearing I might be felled as well–I cooked up a huge batch of stick-to-your-ribs, nutrient-dense, thick and creamy Baked Oatmeal. So far, so good.
As is our habit, the HH and I ate our meal at the table, as The Girls waited in the wings (really just across the floor), like so:
Once we were done, as usual, we offered The Girls the leftovers. In this case, it amounted to about 1/4 cup (60 ml.) cooked oatmeal each. I scraped the oatmeal into their bowls, set them on the floor, and the enthusiastic slurping began.
“Isn’t it cute how they hoover it up?” I mused absentmindedly to the HH.
“Yep, they really seem to like that apple-raisin combo,” he remarked.
“Ha, ha, yes, the–the WHAT?!! Apple-raisin??!!! RAISIN???!!!!” How could I have missed them?? HOW COULD I BE SO IRRESPONSIBLE???!!!! RAISIN. Oh, no. . . . . .
I swooped in to whisk the bowls out of reach–but alas, too late. They’d both eaten several mouthfuls of raisin-infused oatmeal! Now, as any of you with dogs already know, recent media reports have warned that raisins–for some unknown reason–can be highly toxic to dogs, sometimes causing nausea, renal failure–or worse. Horrors!
In a panic, I called the vet to see what to do. My mind was already reeling with unspeakable possibilities. “Bring them in immediately,” she commanded.
And so, a few moments of carelessness led Ricki to spend half her morning chewing her nails in the vet’s office, waiting for The Girls to upchuck a few mouthfuls of cooked oatmeal, apples, and raisins.
Thankfully, everyone came through just fine (though to tell the truth, I’m probably still a bit traumatized–but that might just be because of the size of the vet bill).
Well, after the Ordeal of the Raisins, I was in no mood to crack open a coconut, so we’ll forgo that demonstration today. I do, however, have this yummy coconut-rich Cabbage T’horin for you, as the first entry in the Lucky Comestibles: Coconut series. (And no dogs were harmed in the making of this side dish).
* * * * * * * * *
Coconut, like coffee, chocolate and wine, is a perfect example of culinary atavism: hailed as a boon to health in one generation, scorned in the next, then revived as a “health food” yet again decades later.
Given a bad rap in the past because of its high saturated fat content, what we think of as coconut, that white “meat” that’s most often eaten shredded and dried, is actually the nut of a fresh, green coconut fruit. In recent years controversy has developed over whether or not coconut oil is or is not good for us. Apparently considered a panacea in the tropical countries where it’s naturally abundant, coconuts have been touted more recently in North America as well, to treat a variety of medical problems.
In nutrition school, we learned that the saturated fats in coconut, unlike those in other foods with a high sat fat content (such as meat or butter), are considered “medium chain fatty acids,” which don’t increase cholesterol levels or contribute to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular issues. In fact, most of the studies previously done on coconut oil focused on hydrogenated varieties, and hydrogenation renders any fats unhealthy.
Some researchers also believe that coconut oil is useful for a plethora of ills, including fungal infections (caprylic acid, derived from coconut, is a primary alternative treatment for candida yeast overgrowth), viruses, parasites, digestive disorders, and a wealth of other conditions, as well as helping to prevent heart disease and promote weight loss (though I’ve never been the beneficiary of this last characteristic).
One thing that’s indisputable is its place as first choice when you’re seeking an oil to cook with on high heat. Because of its saturated status, coconut oil is the oil least damaged by heat, which makes it great for frying (even though I know you never fry foods, right?) or baking. And because it’s solid at room temperature (as long as your room is below 76F), coconut oil makes a great butter substitute, and can be used interchangeably with butter. At the organic market where I used to sell my baked goods, one of the vendors was known to eat it off a spoon. I never quite achieved that lofty accomplishment, but do use it for stir-fries and baking.
Fresh coconuts also confer health benefits, through the coconut “water” (the liquid inside the coconut fruit–not to be confused with coconut milk, which is made by boiling the meat of a coconut). I had the opportunity to drink some fresh coconut water extracted from one of these green coconuts a few years back when in nutrition school. An incredibly healthy imbibement, the liquid from a fresh young coconut is said to have the same electolyte balance as our blood, so it’s a wonderful energy drink (which, according to Wikipedia, can actually be taken intravenously!) . I must admit I wasn’t a fan. Apparently, coconut water is now being sold already flavored, so I may give it a try.
As to coconut milk, well. . . is there anything richer tasting than full fat coconut milk? It’s the base for my soy-free vegan whipped cream (the recipe for which is being tweaked daily, with the goal of perfection by the time it appears in the upcoming cookbook) and many a creamy sauce. I love it in desserts and use it in baking as well when I can, although again, you don’t want to overdo the sat fat.
Finally, there’s the coconut itself. Fresh coconut meat is unparalleled in flavor and texture, but practicality does take over most of the time when we’re cooking or baking, and dried is a fine substitute. I’ve used freshly grated coconut meat on only a handful of occasions in cooking. Generally, I prefer unsweetened, as I’d rather have control over the amount of sweetener in my foods (and shredded coconut is often sweetened with white sugar). This way, as well, you need buy only one type, as it’s suitable for both cooking and baking. For the recipes in the Lucky Comestibles series, I’ll try to include coconut meat, milk, and oil (and leave you to try fresh coconut water on your own).
Today’s recipe, the first one I made from my new cookbook, Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon, features shredded dried coconut.
According to the book, this dish hails from Kerala province in India, the very name of which means “Land of the Coconut Palms” and where “almost everything contains coconut.” I think this T’horin is testament to that sentiment–I mean, how often would you consider combining coconut with your cabbage? And yet, it really works.
Try this out for a quick, easy, and incredibly tasty dish. Unlike many dishes with cabbage, this one stir-fries it without the addition of very much liquid, for a crisp yet fully cooked result. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a side with dinner–and was sure it never came anywhere near the drooling mouths of The Girls.
“Thanks, Mum, we appreciate that. . . we’re still feeling a bit woozy from that weird breakfast you gave us.”
Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian
[Now, why would I place chopsticks in a photo of an Indian dish, you ask? Beats me; just thought they looked nice somehow. I did eat the T’horin with them, though.]
2 tsp. (10 ml) virgin coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp (15 ml) black or brown mustard seeds
1 Tbsp (15 ml) smoked paprika
1 small head cabbage (about 1 lb. or 500 g), core removed, finely chopped or shredded
1/2 to 1 small jalapeno pepper, minced, optional
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fine sea salt, or to your taste
3 Tbsp-1/4 cup (45-60 ml) vegetable broth or water
1/3 cup (80 ml) dry unsweetened coconut flakes (I used shredded)
Chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the mustard seeds and cook, shaking the pan often, until the mustard seeds begin to pop, about 3 minutes. Add the paprika and stir for 20 seconds.
Add the cabbage and jalapeno, if using, and stir well to combine and slightly sear the cabbage. After 20 seconds, add the salt, along wtih the 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of broth or water; cover the skillet, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook, lifting the lid to stir now and then, and adding the extra tablespoon of water if needed, 6 to 8 minutes, until the cabbage is tender. (The dish should be dry–no liquid at all in the pan–though the cabbage will be moist.)
Remove from the heat and stir in the coconut. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes 4-6 side dish servings. May be frozen.
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Other Posts in this Series:
Lucky Comestible 4 (2): GF Coconut Mini Loaves or Cupcakes
Lucky Comestible 4 (3): Veggies and Rice with Coconut
Lucky Comestible 4(4): Tofu and Chickpeas in a Thick Creamy Coconut Sauce
Lucky Comestible 4(5): Raspberry Coconut Coffee Cake