Coconut Power

Coconut Power


by Cathe Olson

Since I stopped consuming dairy products, coconut milk has been finding it’s way more and more into my cooking. At first I was nervous about eating this fatty food but the more I researched and talked to nutritionists, I found that coconut milk is, in fact, a very healthful food and an excellent choice for vegans. 

In the past, I had heard that coconut products (oil and milk) are high in saturated fat and had been shown to contribute to heart disease. But actually, there are different kinds of saturated fats-short-, medium-, and long-chain types. Coconut milk is mostly made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which go directly to the liver where they are converted to energy rather than being stored as body fat. In addition, those medium-chain fatty acids speed up your metabolism which burns calories and actually promotes weight loss. 

There was a study done 40 years ago that showed coconut milk raised blood cholesterol levels. The study used hydrogenated coconut oil. We now know, of course, that trans-fats can contribute to cholesterol and heart problems, but natural coconut oil does not have trans fats. In addition, coconut milk is about 50% lauric acid, which is one of the main components of human breast milk. Lauric acid is antibacterial, antifungal, and fights many viruses. 

So what is coconut milk anyway? 

Coconut milk is not the water that’s found when you crack a coconut open but is actually the meat of the coconut, which is blended with water to form a thick creamy liquid. You can buy canned coconut milk?look for nonhomogenized varieties where the cream rises to the top–or make your own as follows: 

How to make coconut milk: 

Coconuts are available year-round at most supermarkets and natural food stores. Choose a coconut that is heavy for its size and full of liquid-you can tell by shaking it. To open the coconut, use a large nail or ice pick to pierce two of the soft, black “eyes” at the top of the coconut. Drain and reserve the liquid (coconut water). 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the drained coconut for about 20 minutes. Alternatively, put it in the freezer for an hour. Either method will make the shell brittle so that you can whack it with a hammer; it should break in two. 

Use a sharp knife to separate the meat from the shell. Peel off any dark brown skin clinging to the white meat. Mince the meat in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. You’ll need to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the work bowl until the coconut meat is evenly minced. A medium coconut will yield 3 1/4 to 4 cups of meat. 

Now you can make the milk. Combine the minced coconut and 1 1/2 cups water (use the reserved coconut water plus regular water to make that measure) in a blender. Pulse and process until smooth, adding more water, if necessary, to facilitate processing. This will yield about 2 cups of coconut milk. 

How to use coconut milk 

Coconut milk is a great substitute for heavy cream in recipes like puddings and desserts. It’s also excellent in cream soups and sauces. Coconut milk is often found in Asian and Indian dishes like curries. 

Here are a few recipes to try: 

Coconut-Banana-Peach Oatmeal 

Try this with other fruits as well – we like berries, mango, and pineapple 

Prepare oatmeal as directed on the package and spoon into bowls. Top with sliced bananas and peaches. Cover with coconut milk. Sprinkle shredded coconut over the top if desired. 

Thai Pumpkin-Coconut Soup 

This tasty soup is so easy-it’s a great quick meal on a busy day. 

  • 2 cups or 1 (15-ounce) can pureed, cooked pumpkin 
  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat or lite coconut milk 
  • 2 cups vegetable stock 
  • 1 tablespoon miso 
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red curry paste, or to taste 
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste 
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Place pumpkin, coconut milk, and stock in pan. Warm over medium heat until just about to boil. Remove from heat. Mix in miso, curry paste, and sea salt. Sprinkle cilantro over top. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings 

Mild Yellow Curry Stew 

If you like a spicier curry, add another chili pepper or some Thai chili sauce. 

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil 
  • 1 onion, chopped 
  • 2 cups diced tofu, tempeh, or seitan (1/2-inch) 
  • 1 large sweet potato or two large red potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
  • 1 clove garlic, minced 
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano chili, minced (seeds and membranes removed) 
  • 2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger 
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder 
  • Pinch ground cinnamon 
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable stock 
  • 1/2 cup full-fat or lite coconut milk 
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets 
  • 2 cups or 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes 
  • 4 packed cups baby spinach (6 ounces) 
  • 1 tablespoon miso 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh peppermint leaves

Heat oil over medium heat in large pan. Add onion and tofu, tempeh, or seitan. Brown 5 minutes, or until golden. Stir in potato, garlic, chili, ginger, curry powder, and cinnamon. Sauté 2 minutes. Add stock, coconut milk, salt, and cauliflower. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir in tomatoes and spinach. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix miso with a little curry broth until you have a smooth paste. Stir miso into curry. Sprinkle cilantro and peppermint over curry. Eat as is or over rice. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings 

Coconut Ice Cream 

Be sure to allow time for the base to soak up the coconut flavor. Our favorite Thai restaurant serves coconut ice cream garnished with salted peanuts’a delicious combination you might want to try. 

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded dried coconut 
  • 1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk 
  • 1 1/4 cups soymilk or other nondairy milk 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or agave syrup 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the shredded coconut in a saucepan on medium-low heat. Stir until the coconut begins to turn slightly golden. Add the coconut milk, soymilk, and sugar and stir to mix. Warm on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Cool to room temperature. Then cover and chill in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours. 

When you are ready to make the ice cream, pour the base through a fine-mesh strainer placed over a medium bowl. Transfer the strained coconut to a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate; it will be added later. 

Freeze the ice cream base in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. About 5 minutes before the end of the freezing time, when the ice cream is almost to the firmness you desire, add the reserved coconut. Process for 5 more minutes, or until the ice cream reaches the desired consistency. 

Makes 1 quart 

For more information about coconut, check out the book The Healing Miracle of Coconut Oil by Dr. Bruce Fife or the Web site: 

Cathe Olson

Author: Cathe Olson

Cathe Olson is the author of the new nondairy ice cream cookbook: Lick It! Cream Dreamy Vegan Ice Cream Your Mouth Will Love, as well as Simply Natural Baby Food and The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook. Visit Cathe’s blog at

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