Tag Archives: coconut milk

Pumpkin and Coconut Soup

4 Nov

Coconut oil is a controversial topic in the nutrition world. Supporters claim it can burn fat, boost your metabolism, and help you lose weight. Skeptics say it’s high in saturated fat and may promote heart disease. So who should we believe?

Without delving too deep into the scientific literature, the health effects of coconut oil can be grouped into three different categories: body weight, heart disease, and inflammation.

Body weight. The predominant fat in coconut oil is thought to be medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), a type of fat that gets metabolized differently (and more efficiently) than more common dietary fats. In actuality, the chemical composition of coconut oil is markedly different from MCT oils; therefore, results from studies using MCT oils cannot be extrapolated to coconut oil. A couple of small studies suggests that coconut oil may modestly decrease waist circumference in overweight adults, but has no effect on fat mass.

Heart disease. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat. Historically, foods high in saturated fat were discouraged due to their ability to raise blood cholesterol levels, which in turn was thought to increase heart disease risk. Newer research suggests that the link between dietary saturated fat (animal fats, tropical oils) and heart disease is not as strong as once thought. Some systematic reviews do not support a relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, while others have found that replacing saturated fat with mono- and polyunsaturated fats can reduce heart disease risk. Research looking at coconut oil specifically has found that blood levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol both increase following regular coconut oil consumption. Longer term studies looking at the relationship between coconut oil and heart disease are required.

Inflammation. The polyphenols found in virgin coconut oil (very different from refined coconut oil) may act as antioxidants in the body and help fight inflammation; however, studies are few and far between. Claims that coconut oil will help in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments require more research before recommendations can be made.

So what’s my take on the coconut oil debate? Too much of any kind of fat will lead to weight gain, since fat is the most energy-dense of all macronutrients at 9 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate). Use coconut oil in moderation to add flavour to dishes, but stick to monounsaturated fats (olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (preferably those with a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, such as canola or safflower oil) for day-to-day cooking. And aim to get your polyphenols from sources such as fruits and vegetables, green and black teas, coffee, and extra-virgin olive oil.

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As a huge fan of coconut-flavoured everything, I’ve always been intrigued by the prospect of using coconut oil in cooking. People say it lends a nutty, sweet aroma that is perfect for curries and roasted vegetables like yams and carrots. Yet I’ve never been able to bring myself to purchase a jar. Just looking at the white, solid-at-room-temperature, lard-resembling fat makes my arteries cringe—and yes, I realize there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these irrational thoughts. So when I received a jar as a gift from my aunt, I was eager to experiment.

Sifting through a pile of old recipes, I came across a simple pumpkin and coconut soup. The directions were a bit vague, and I realized some steps were left out, so I was naturally skeptical. But soup is pretty hard to mess up, and I had a sugar pumpkin sitting on my counter waiting to be used.

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The recipe calls for a whole sugar pumpkin (not to be mistaken with carving pumpkins which are NOT ideal for eating due to their bland, fibrous flesh) but if you’re in a bind, you could try buttercup squash. Roasting the pumpkin adds depth that you’re unlikely to get from canned or boiled pumpkin, so don’t skip this step. It’s worth the extra effort.

The coconut flavour was IN-YOUR-FACE (in a good way!). It was a nice contrast from dishes that call for coconut milk alone, where the coconut flavour can be mild and almost undetectable. The spice combination of cumin, chili powder and cinnamon together with the sweetness of the roasted pumpkin paired beautifully with coconut. A wonderful autumn soup to keep you warm during the cold months ahead.

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Pumpkin and Coconut Soup
(source unknown)

1 tbsp virgin coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 sugar pumpkin
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1/8 to 1/4 tsp chili flakes (optional)
3 to 4 cups water
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 cup light coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste (approx 1/4 tsp salt worked for me)

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Quarter pumpkin, scoop out seeds (reserve for roasting if you wish!), and place cut-side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil that has been lightly oiled. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until flesh is soft. Allow to cool slightly, then scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl when pumpkin is cool enough to handle. You should have approximately 3 cups.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Add cumin, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili flakes (if using). Cook, stirring, for one minute or until fragrant.
  4. Add pumpkin and 3 cups of water, and stir to combine. Using an immersion blender, puree soup ensuring no pieces of onion remain. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If the consistency is too thick, add additional water.
  5. Remove from heat, add lime juice and coconut milk, and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings. Per 1-1/2 cup serving: 170kcal, 8 g fat (6 g saturated), 26 g carbohydrates (8 g fibre), 4 g protein, 165 mg sodium

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The ultimate “superfood” recipe… from a super friend!

25 Nov

After hearing me complain about not having the time and energy to cook often, my near and dear friend JC offered to write a guest post on a fabulous recipe she recently cooked up.  It sounded so good that I was sufficiently motivated to get in the kitchen earlier this week to try it out for myself.  Thank you, Jess!

My life and gastrointestinal system was changed forever after 2 years of cohabitation with Lisa. Brownies made with black beans? Substituting applesauce for oil in cake? And perhaps the most influential dietary change involved making rabbit food aka bran buds part of my daily routine.

Four years since I spread my wings and moved out on my own, I continue to be inspired by Lisa’s baking and cooking creations! How does she manage to make such healthy, fibre-packed creations so damned delicious. My own culinary adventures range from comical failures (really, how does one manage to mess up the peanut butter cookie recipe on the back of the jar) to raging successes – which I am sharing with you today.

While having never made kale before, I have often read about its wonder as a “superfood!!” Classic google search “healthy recipe and kale and delicious” (those people at google really can read my mind), led to this truly delectable concoction! Immediately after having my first bite, I texted, “I literally just made the most delicious creation of life…I think it is blog worthy.” So here you are! Enjoy!

Nutritious and Delicious!


Squash, Tofu, and Kale Curry
(from Eatingwell.com)

Due to my life in Northern Ontario, my odd working hours, and limited grocery store hours, I made a couple small modifications – using an acorn squash and green curry paste instead of what was listed on the recipe.  Note: I (Lisa) made a few other substitutions of my own which can be found below.

2 tablespoons curry powder, preferably Madras
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 (16-ounce) package extra-firm or firm, water-packed tofu
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
1 large delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes  (I used 1 medium butternut squash)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 14-ounce can “lite” coconut milk
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 cups coarsely chopped kale or chard, tough stems removed
1 tablespoon lime juice, plus more to taste
Optional: Sriracha for added heat!

  1. Combine curry powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Blot tofu dry with a paper towel and cut into 1-inch cubes; toss the tofu in a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture.
  2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook, stirring every 2 minutes, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, ginger and the remaining spice mixture; cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.  (Note: I boiled the squash for ~5-10 minutes before adding it at this step, but I think it will probably cook through if you follow the recipe as written).  Add coconut milk and brown sugar; bring to a boil. Add half the kale (or chard) and cook, stirring, until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the rest of the greens and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Return the tofu to the pan, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the squash and greens are tender, 3 to 5 minutes more.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in lime juice.

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 410 kcal, 47 g CHO, 9 g fibre, 19 g fat (6.6 g saturated), 22 g protein, 373 mg sodium.

Jicama: Fresh, Flavourful, and Full of Fibre!

21 Sep

Today I bring you another installment of my adventures with jicama. Did you know that the slightly sweet taste of jicama is due to its high inulin content? Neither did I. Inulin is a dietary fibre with several documented health benefits. Studies have shown that inulin can reduce blood triglycerides. It also acts as a prebiotic— food for the healthy ‘probiotic’ bacteria in your gut.

With its high fibre content, jicama may increase satiety and assist with weight control. One cup of sliced jicama contains a whopping 6 grams of fibre and only 48 calories. A healthy diet should contain 25 to 38 grams of fibre daily; unfortunately, the average Canadian only consumes 14 grams of fibre each day. If you consider yourself to be an average Canadian, add two cups of jicama to your day and ta-da! You’ve met your fibre requirements.

Enough about my nutrition ramblings… onto the food! I stumbled across this recipe for Jicama with Peanut Sriracha Dip while browsing at Indigo one evening. It comes from the cookbook ‘Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables.’ Ripe is the type of cookbook that you could proudly display on your coffee table yet it could just as easily live on your kitchen counter, full of stains and dog ears. The photos are works of art and the recipes look delectable. Of all its reviews, this one from the Portland Press Herald is my favourite…

“Open the cover and let the fruits and vegetables seduce you. From beets with bedroom eyes to come-hither coconuts, the new cookbook “Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables” reads like a love letter to produce…”

The dip combines two of my favourite flavours: coconut and peanut. It was pretty good as a dip but could have used more acidity to cut the creaminess of the coconut milk and peanut butter. We had lots of extra dip so E and I used the leftovers as a sauce for a shrimp and tofu stir-fry. It was heavenly!

Jicama Spears with Sriracha Peanut Dip

 

Jicama with Peanut Sriracha Dip
(from Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables)

Sriracha, affectionately known as “Rooster sauce” is a Thai hot sauce made from chili peppers, distilled vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt.  It can be found in the Asian food section of most major grocery stores.  Add as much Sriracha as you can handle.  The heat intensifies as the dip chills.

2/3 cup light coconut milk
1/3 cup natural peanut butter (crunchy or smooth)
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
3/4 tsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp Sriracha sauce, or more, to taste
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped, unsalted, roasted peanuts (optional)
2 medium jicama

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients except the cilantro, chopped peanuts, and jicama.  Whisk gently over low heat until smooth and warm, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro.  Cool to room temperature.  Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight to allow the flavours to blend.
  2. Meanwhile, peel the jicama with a sharp paring knife.  Cut into sticks roughly 1/2 inch wide.  Cover and refrigerate the sticks so that they’re nice and cold.
  3. When ready to serve, taste the dip with a jicama spear to check for heat and balance.  Because the jicama is sweet, tasting them together is important.  Add additional Sriracha, one squeeze at a time, to achieve your desired heat level.  Top with chopped peanuts before serving.

Makes 1 cup dip and 30-40 jicama spears.  Per 2 tbsp dip (without chopped peanuts): 80 kcal, 4 g CHO, 0.8 g fibre, 6.3 g fat (1.7 g saturated), 2.5 g protein, 54 mg sodium.

 

Easy but Elegant Asian-Style White Fish

16 Aug

It was my mom’s birthday earlier this week and I wanted to treat her to a nicer-than-usual dinner.  Sifting through my cookbooks, I came across a simple yet sophisticated fish recipe that I’ve made once before.  Mushrooms are sauteed until all of their moisture is lost and then tossed in a salty yet sweet Asian-inspired sauce.  Next, a firm white fish of your choice is topped with the mushroom mixture, then baked in the oven for just over ten minutes.  Easy peasy, right?

To class up the meal just a bit more, I decided to forgo the usual plain brown rice for a coconut rice dish from the Looneyspoons Collection cookbook.  Good ole Janet and Greta… again, providing me with much-needed inspiration!  Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed with the rice despite it being a nice addition to the meal.  The coconut flavour was too subtle; however, the ginger shone through and saved the day.  Next time I’d omit the salt and try it with the lemon zest (the fridge was void of lemons).

Do you have any easy, pseudo-gourmet meals worth sharing?  I’m always looking for new recipes to add to the pile, especially ones that trick my guests into thinking I’m a great chef!

Tilapia hiding under a mound of mushrooms

 

White Fish with Black Bean Sauce and Oyster Mushrooms
(from Rose Reisman’s Family Favorites cookbook)

Black bean sauce is a Chinese sauce made from fermented soy beans and wheat flour.  It’s very high in sodium (like many Asian sauces), so use it in moderation.

1-1/2 lbs (675 g) firm white fish (e.g. tilapia or pickerel)
1 tsp vegetable oil
4 cups sliced oyster mushrooms (feel free to substitute any kind of mushroom)

Sauce:
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp sweet chili sauce (or ketchup)
2 tbsp black bean sauce
3 tbsp water
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tsp minced garlic

Garnish (optional):  3 tbsp chopped green onions, 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray or oil.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute for 8 minutes or until the mushrooms are no longer wet, stirring often.
  3. Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining all sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  When the mushrooms are finished cooking, add the sauce to the mushrooms and saute for one more minute.
  4. Place the fish on the prepared baking sheet and divide the mushroom mixture evenly between the fillets.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until the fish just starts to flake.
  5. Garnish with the green onions and cilantro, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 203 kcal, 10 g fat (1.4 g saturated fat), 0.7 g fibre, 23 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 268 mg sodium

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Twice as Nice Coconut Rice
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

Click here for tips on what to look for when choosing a coconut milk

1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated gingerroot
1-1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
3/4 cup light coconut milk
2-1/4 cups water
1 tsp honey
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

  1. In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and gingerroot and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute.  Add rice and cook for one more minute.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.  (Exact cooking time depends on brand of rice.  Check instructions on the package as some brown rice takes up to 45 minutes to cook).
  3. Fluff rice with a fork and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 208 kcal, 4.6 g fat (3.1 g saturated fat), 4 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 1.7 g fibre, 4 g protein, 203 mg sodium.

Don’t Judge A Coconut Milk By Its ‘Title’

29 Jul

Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself motivation to cook many of the recipes that I’ve been collecting over the past year or two.  I have a fixation with seeking out healthy recipes but I collect far more than I cook, and so the pile grows…

The other night I tackled a recipe for a spicy vegetable curry that I clipped from the July 2010 issue of Chatelaine magazine.  Instead of purchasing a large bottle of Indian curry paste that would sit unused in my fridge, I decided to whip up my own version based on a little bit of research and the spices I had on hand.  I was pleasantly surprised– despite my makeshift curry paste, the dish turned out quite nicely.  Next time I think I will increase the number of eggplants (Japanese eggplants are one of my favourites– they have an amazing texture) and throw in some tofu for a little extra protein.

As a side note, while shopping for coconut milk I made an interesting discovery.  Despite being almost double the price, light coconut milk has always been my go-to since it’s a healthier alternative to the full-fat version.  But… lo and behold, this is not entirely the case!  Light will almost always be lowest in calories and in fat, but not necessarily by much.  For example, the regular version of brand #1 ($1.49 for a can) contained a whopping 120 calories and 10 grams of fat per serving while the light version of brand #1 ($2.49) contained only 40 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.  Out of curiosity, I looked at the label of brand #2 (which only came in regular) and noticed that it only contained 50 calories and 4 grams of fat in an identical serving size … and was the cheapest one of all at $1.29 per can.

The moral of the story?  You can’t judge a coconut milk (or any food item, for that matter) by its title.  Always read the Nutrition Facts Panel!

Summer Vegetables with Spicy Coconut Curry

Summer Vegetables with Spicy Coconut Curry
(from Chatelaine magazine, July 2010)

1/2 cup red lentils
500 g green beans, trimmed and cut in half
2 tbsp Indian curry paste, preferably biryani (or make your own, recipe below)
200 mL coconut milk
1/8 tsp salt
2 Japanese eggplants
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
lemon wedges*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

  1. Combine lentils with 2.5 cups of water in a medium pot.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat slightly and boil uncovered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water 1 inch deep and bring to a boil.  Add green beans and steam, covered, until tender-crisp, approximately 5 minutes. Drain beans and set aside.
  2. Mix curry paste with 1 tbsp water and add to simmering lentils.  Stir in coconut milk and salt.  Simmer, uncovered, until thickened, 7 to 9 minutes.
  3. While lentils simmer, slice eggplants into quarters lengthwise, then into 2-inch wedges. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat.  Cook onion until softened, about 3 minutes. Add eggplant, skin-side up.  Cook until tender, about 7 minutes.  Add green beans and toss to combine.
  4. Divide eggplant mixture between 4 bowls and top with lentil mixture.  Garnish with lemon and cilantro.  Can be served with toasted naan or over top rice.

*I didn’t think omitting the lemon would be a big deal, but the lentil mixture really needed a bit of acidity. I didn’t have lemons or lemon juice on hand so I used a few teaspoons of white wine vinegar. It made a big difference!

Makes 4 servings.  Per serving: 250 kcal, 11 g fat, 8 g fibre, 310 mg sodium

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Homemade Indian Curry Paste  (Makes 2 tbsp)

1/2 tbsp each cumin and coriander
heaping 1/4 tsp each turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, paprika
pinch of salt
3 cloves of garlic, grated
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 tbsp white vinegar

Mix spices in a small bowl.  Add garlic and grated ginger, mix well.  Add vinegar, mix well.