Unless a localvore lives in a tropical climate, coconut will not be on their plate. With the love of all things local trending (which tickles me pink), we’ve gotta make wiggle room for some things, don’tcha think? Indulgence is necessary (someone noteworthy must have said that), and coconut seems to fit the bill. It’s the cornerstone of cultural cooking in many Asian, Indonesian, Latin American, and Polynesian dishes, and it seems to be bigger than ever in Western dishes, from cocktails to savories to sweets.
Cooking Coconut: Going Beyond Sweets
Let’s think beyond a coconut layer cake or coconut macaroons. It’s easier said than done, because now all I can think about is a mile-high Paula Deen-style coconut cake.
Coconut oil has given traditional cooking fats a run for their money as a vegan alternative. Coconut flour is used to enrich baked goods and in gluten-free recipes. Coconut water, the liquid at the core of the coconut, is an alternative to processed, artificially-sweetened sports drinks and sodas. Coconut milk, a creamy product of steamed coconut meat and water, is the base of savory stews and sweet cocktails. It’s a taste of paradise, right?
Minimally refined coconut milk and raw, organic coconut oil are sources of inspiration for vegans and whole food cooks substituting dairy products. I found in my coconut oil baking experiments thatit can be substituted in equal proportions for butter or oil, with only minor modifications (chilling a recipe that needs firm butter-like chunks, as with crumb topping or scones).
Healthy or Not?
Even with coconut products flooding the market, the health benefits of coconut fats are still debated. It all comes down to the high amount of saturated fats and the method of processing coconut oil (like any processed foods versus foods in their natural, minimally processed state). Like any healthy, calorie-dense food — hemp seeds and raw nuts for example — moderation is key.As far as a thumbs-up coming from all nutrition experts, don’t hold your breath. Experts are split about the benefits or downfalls of coconut oil.
Refined foods often lose nutritional value during processing, so choose raw, organic coconut oilinstead of compromising quality for the sake of price. With so many coconut milk options, consider Native Forest organic coconut milk versus cheaper alternatives for their commitment to quality and taste. Buy unprocessed, unrefined, non-expeller pressed, organic coconut oil if you are looking for true coconut flavor and the benefits of phytonutrients. Use expeller pressed or refined coconut oil if you are looking for a neutral flavor.
Coconut 4 Ways, For Diet and Beauty
1) Unsweetened, unflavored coconut water as a substitute for sports drink or sodas. 11 ounces contains approximately 60 calories; consume in moderation. Use in smoothies instead of sugary juices or dairy for the benefit of added minerals and reduced fat and sugar.
2) Replace heavy cream with coconut milk in sweet or savory recipes for dairy-free alternatives.
3) Add unrefined coconut oil to your daily beauty routine. Salon Owner Tia Mazy, of Amazyng Style in Pennsylvania, suggests using coconut oil (naturally paraben-free) once a week as a hair treatment, a facial and body moisturizer, as well as a makeup remover.
4) Coconut oil is a non-dairy or olive oil alternative for high-heat cooking.
Lime and Coconut Scones
Yield: 8 scones
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (spelt or whole wheat white, preferred), extra for dusting *substitute GF all-purpose flour if needed
- 1/3 cup dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/4 cup organic sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup coconut milk, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1/4 cup organic, raw coconut oil, melted
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon lime zest
- 1/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut, optional for topping
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk flour, coconut flakes, sugar, baking powder, salt and lime zest. Set aside.
Combine 1 cup coconut milk, coconut oil and lime juice.
Pour the coconut mixture into the flour mixture stirring for 6-8 gentle strokes. It will be just combined. Dough should not be wet or too crumbly.
Scoop the dough onto a flour dusted surface and gently fold over until it is not sticky and can be formed an 8-inch round, 1-inch high disc.
Cut into eight pieces. Brush the tops with 1 tablespoon coconut milk and sprinkle with 1/4 cup coconut flakes.
Place the pieces on the baking sheet and in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Want more coconut recipes?
Curry Roti, vegan and gluten free
Vegan Raspberry Lavender Ice Cream
Coconut Mango Sticky Rice, vegan and gluten-free
Photo Credits: Albert Freeman, all others by author