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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Oh Coconuts!

When I was in second grade, all the kids in the class had an assignment: we each had to research a farm animal and make a short presentation to share our findings.
This was a lot of work, as in those ancient days, we had to resort to BOOKS and ENCYCLOPEDIAS. We had to look up the words in the outdated tomes by alphabetical order and there were no keyboards and no home printers involved. No Google, no Wikipedia. The .com, the televised phone calls and the universe of information at our fingertips were then still science fiction.
I have no recollection what-so-ever of what animal I worked on, but for some reason, I do remember a part of the presentation of the kid who taught us about the pig. He said that pigs were the most efficiently used domesticated animals, as almost every single part of their body was transformed into something that could be used by humans. People could make meat, leather goods, brush bristles and even soap with pigs. The word soap kept resonating in my brain. When I got home I refused to wash or shower. When my mother was finally able to convince me to spill out the reason behind my new phobia to hygiene, I told her I didn’t want to wash with a dead pig. She laughed and assured me our soaps had no pig in them. I believed her, but 100 years later, I still remember…
And talking about the world’s most efficiently used species; I believe the coconut to be the vegan and kosher equivalent of the pig. This tropical fruit, which is not a botanical nut (although some people allergic to nuts are allergic to coconuts), is incredibly versatile and no part is wasted. It’s even used to make soap!!!
If you check the aisles of a well-stocked grocery or health food store, you might note that there’s coconut everything. Just for baking purposes you can find: coconut water, milk, shredded coconut (meat), oil, flour, sugar, cream, coconut kefir, liquor, and vinegar.
I don’t believe one food can be the one answer for complete nourishment, happiness, thinness, beauty and intelligence, but some coconut products are a great addition to some recipes.
Here are the ones I think are worth incorporating (along with other wholesome ingredients) into the pantry:
·         Coconut Sugar or Coconut Nectar (make sure it’s 100% coconut palm sugar): This natural and sustainable sweetener is produced from the sap of coconut flowers that is then collected and heated, the water evaporates and the sugar crystals form. It has a complex and delicious flavor (but doesn’t taste like coconut). Nutritionally, it is higher in nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C than other sweeteners. It can be substituted for regular or brown sugar 1:1, and has a low glycemic index.

  • Virgin Coconut Oil (make sure it’s NOT hydrogenated, but pure unrefined, expeller-pressed coconut oil): Extracted from the coconut meat, this oil has been regaining popularity in the last couple of years. It is rich in medium chain fatty acids, especially in lauric acid, that is also present in human breast milk. According to some authors, this fatty acid possesses antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties and could prevent cardiovascular disease and speed up metabolism. But even though more scientific evidence is still needed to support all these claims, nutrition experts have been accepting this sweet and heat-stable oil more and more lately. If you like a mild coconut flavor, it is a great substitute for butter and other fats when baking and cooking. Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, melts when slightly warmed and turns rock-solid when refrigerated. Find a kind you like, as the flavor changes depending on its origin and manufacturer (the link I provided is my favorite one so far). Some kinds can taste soapy, so make sure to taste it before using!

  • Coconut Flour: Made of ground coconut meat, this gluten free flour is very high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrates and a good source of protein. It adds a mild natural sweetness and a rich texture to baked goods. To use, substitute about 20% of the flour used in a recipe for coconut flour, and add  20% more liquid to the recipe (due to its high fiber content, coconut flour absorbs more moisture than other flours).

  • Coconut Milk: Made by mixing and straining coconut flesh and plain water, this non-dairy liquid is a great rich, creamy (it has a higher fat content than cow’s milk, in the form of medium chain fatty acids) and is a mildly sweet option in recipes where soy, rice, nut, cow and/or sheep milks are used.

·       Coconut Water: is the clear liquid inside young coconuts. As the fruit matures, the coconut water is gradually replaced by coconut meat and air. This refreshing liquid, as marketers state, could work as a natural sports drink due to its high concentration of electrolites, especially potassium. This water has the same constitution as human blood plasma, so it’s been used in IVs to save lives! In cooking, it can be used instead of water to cook grains like rice, spelt or oats or in most recipes calling for water.

Young coconuts

Dry (older) coconuts

  • Unsweetened shredded coconut: This desiccated form of coconut meat can be used in baking and cooking to impart its characteristic flavor, to make coconut milk, to garnish and/or to add texture and its nutritional benefits to a dish.

  • Coconut kefir: Although I will elaborate more on kefir in an upcoming post, this particular kind of kefir is made by adding cultures (healthy bacteria) to coconut milk or coconut water. It works as a non-dairy substitute in recipes requiring buttermilk or yogurt, and it adds some iron, magnesium and vitamin B12 (which is commonly deficient in vegan diets) to the preparation.


Super ingredients: coconut, organic tofu, coconut oil, whole spelt and oat flour, oat bran, fresh raspberries

  • Vegan, pareve
  • No dairy, nuts, eggs, or wheat

I wanted to develop a recipe using as many of these coconut ingredients as I could. I baked three batches of scones, but I didn’t succeed in my quest, as I didn’t feel any of them were that tasty. I decided then to make something where coconut would be the undisputable center of attention. Just by chance, our good friends from Riverdale came over that night for dinner and they gave this pie thumbs up. Even my husband, who’s not a big coconut fan, cleaned his plate.

You can top it with any fruit you’d like. Tropical fruits such as mangoes, pineapple or even bananas are great. I just had raspberries around and a little bit of my home-made “chocolate magic shell”, so I put them to good use.

¼ cup (2 oz) virgin coconut oil
½ cup (2 oz) whole spelt flour
½ cup (2 oz) whole oat flour
¼ cup (1 oz) coconut flour
2 Tablespoons oat bran
2 Tablespoons coconut sugar
½ teaspoon sea salt
6-9 Tablespoons ice water

Coconut Cream filling
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons coconut sugar
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon organic corn or tapioca starch
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

2 oz fresh organic raspberries (or any other fruit, cut into bite size pieces)
2 oz. home-made “chocolate magic shell”


Measure coconut oil and freeze while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix the spelt, oat and coconut flours, the oat bran, salt, coconut sugar and baking powder with a whisk. 

With a wooden spatula or a pastry knife, cut in coconut oil, mixing it with the dry ingredients until pea-sized lumps are formed.

In a separate small bowl, mix 5 tablespoons of ice water with vinegar and drizzle over flour mixture. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, as needed, until the dough holds together when pressed with your hand, but doesn’t look wet.

Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap, enclose it and flatten with a rolling pin so the dough forms a 9-inch diameter circle. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours. Make filling while crust chills.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Once crust has rested in the fridge, unwrap the dough and place it between a piece of parchment paper and the plastic that was wrapping it, and roll it out with a rolling pin from center out.

Turn the dough 45 degrees, remove plastic and place again (to prevent it from sticking) and repeat rolling and turning until it forms a circle that is large enough to cover an 9-inch pie mold bottom, sides and has about 1-inch overhang.
To transfer dough onto the pan, remove plastic cover, and slip your hand under the parchment paper. Use the paper to lift dough on top of pan. Carefully turn parchment over and let the dough into the pan.

Crimp the edge of the crust.

Place a parchment circle (feel free to recycle the parchment to used for rolling out) on the crust and fill up with uncooked rice or beans.

Bake for about 25 minutes until golden. Let cool.
Spread filling evenly with a spatula once crust has completely cooled.

Coconut Cream Filling
Blend silken tofu with a regular or an immersion blender until completely creamy and set aside.
In a medium saucepan whisk coconut sugar and corn (or tapioca) starch until mixed. Turn heat on to medium and place saucepan on it, gradually adding the coconut milk. Whisk constantly until mix thickens, then remove from heat. Whisk in blended tofu and when it’s incorporated, mix in vanilla, salt, coconut, lemon juice and zest (if using). Let cool and refrigerate until the crust is ready to be used.

Arrange fruit decoratively on the cream filling. With a spoon, fork or spatula covered with the hot “chocolate magic shell,” scribble on the pie doodling all over. Serve.


9 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
1 ¼ ounces virgin coconut oil
Cut chocolate into small pieces if it comes in a block.
In a double boiler, melt chocolate and oil completely over medium heat.
Remove from heat and use on very cold desserts to form a shell, as it hardens at room temperature.

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