Healthy Coconut Recipes: A Taste of the Tropics
Coconut cream pie… Gluten-free coconut cake… Coconut macaroons… Crispy coconut shrimp with sweet-spicy sauce… Does the mere sound of these dishes make your mouth water?
There's no doubt that coconut is one of the most useful, versatile foods you can have at home. From being a light salad ingredient to a sweet addition to desserts, coconut certainly fits the bill in terms of flavor and nutrition. Even fresh coconut water, which you can sip directly from the fruit, has a myriad of uses in the kitchen.
So if you are serious about following a healthful diet without sacrificing the taste of your meals, I highly recommend making coconut a regular feature of the foods you eat. There are countless ways to incorporate this tropical fruit into your recipes! But first, here's a brief background about this fruit.
'The Plant of Life': Coconut Fast Facts
Personally, I do not advocate consuming excessive amounts of fruits. Although whole fruits are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and enzymes, many of them still contain high amounts of fructose, which can be detrimental to your health.
However, coconuts are an exception.
Fresh, whole coconuts are not only low in fructose, but they’re also a rich source of saturated fats that are essential to your diet. It’s actually one of my top recommended tropical fruits, along with avocado.
Here in the U.S. and most other Western countries, the coconut is considered an exotic fruit. But in tropical countries and Pacific islands, it's a staple. Almost every part of the plant is used, from the leaves to the roots, which is why it is called "the plant of life." For more about coconut uses, check out this video:
Technically, the coconut is not a fruit, but a fibrous, one-seeded drupe. It has three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard woody layer that surrounds the “meat”). When you buy a coconut from the supermarket, the exocarp and mesocarp are usually removed, and what you’ll typically see is only the endocarp.
The fruit of the coconut tree can be transformed into different products, such as coconut milk and coconut cream, which are added to many recipes. The white meat can be eaten straight from the fruit, shredded or dried to be mixed into or sprinkled over cakes, or transformed into coconut flour or coconut butter. Coconut oil is also extracted from the meat. Meanwhile, coconut water can be consumed as a rehydrating after-exercise drink, or added to various recipes such as soups and fruit smoothies.
If you want to further enrich your diet with the wholesome benefits of coconut, I advise using coconut oil for cooking. In fact, it’s the ONLY cooking oil that’s stable enough to resist heat-induce damage – even better than olive oil, which is only healthy when used cold, as a salad dressing or drizzled over foods.
So if you must have only ONE cooking oil in your kitchen, coconut oil is your best choice.
Try These Healthy Coconut Recipes
There are endless ways to indulge without the guilt. Hundreds, even thousands, of coconut recipes will allow you to experience the goodness of this tropical fruit. To get you started, here are some scrumptious ideas you can make at home.
Make this refreshing low-sugar smoothie – a delicious and filling breakfast or snack.
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups frozen apricots, pitted and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 kiwifruit, frozen and cut into bite-sized pieces
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- For a thicker consistency, add 6 to 8 ice cubes before blending.
- Place the blended smoothie in dessert cups and freeze for two hours before eating.
- Add a tablespoon of protein powder before blending for a high-protein snack.
- Add 2 tablespoons organic unsweetened nut butter for extra protein, flavor, and thickness.
Thai Coconut Soup
This flavorful, no-cook, coconut-infused Asian dish will remind you of Thailand’s unique and colorful culture. Serve it with your favorite meat dish or with a salad.
1½ cups water
2 cups coconut water
2 cups young coconut meat
1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
½ ripe avocado
1 clove garlic
1 inch fresh ginger
2 tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon flax seed oil
½ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons nama shoyu* or wheat-free tamari soy sauce
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
1 cup cilantro
⅓ cup shallots chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 carrot, sliced very thinly
- Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender except for the last 4. Add the cilantro and blend briefly, so that you can still see small pieces of cilantro.
- Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the last 3 ingredients.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
*Nama shoyu is a blend of raw shoyu (soy sauce) and can be found at health food stores.
Coconut-Macadamia Nut Crusted Halibut
Make your fish dish more interesting by infusing it with the mild, sweet flavor of coconut.
2 pounds wild halibut
2 tablespoons unrefined, organic extra virgin coconut oil
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut
½ cup macadamia nuts, chopped
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Rinse the halibut and pat dry. Place it in a baking dish and drizzle coconut oil all over. Add the lime juice and salt.
- Let marinate for about 15 minutes or longer. It is important to drizzle oil before adding the lime juice because the juice will begin to “cook” the fish. Adding the oil first provides some protection against this.
- Mix coconut and macadamia nuts together onto a plate. Roll the fish in the nut mixture and then, using your hands, pat the additional mixture into fish. Place back in baking dish and pour remaining nut mixture on top. Cover baking dish with foil.
- Bake for 12 minutes, and then turn the broiler on. Remove foil and allow the broiler to brown the coating. Serve immediately.
This recipe makes 4 servings.
Coconut Kale With Sesame-Crusted Salmon
The sweet and creamy flavor of coconut milk will bring out the natural flavor of wild Alaskan salmon, for a truly comforting dish.
For the kale:
3 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 bunch kale, chopped
1½ cups coconut milk
Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the ginger and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Add the kale and sauté, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat, and simmer until kale is tender.
For the salmon:
6 wild Alaskan salmon steaks (you can also use sole, perch, or halibut)
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons coconut oil
4 tablespoons minced ginger
1 cup sesame seeds
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 475°F.
- In a small pan, melt the butter and oil with the ginger.
- Brush the butter, oil, and ginger on the pieces of salmon. Roll the salmon in the sesame seeds. Place the salmon on an oiled sheet pan and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.
- Place the salmon in the oven and roast until the sesame seeds are brown and the salmon is rare inside, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This recipe makes 6 servings.
Coconut Meringue Swirl Cookies
This yummy coconut dessert is a sure hit — for adults or children.
½ cup unsweetened coconut
3 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon organic alcohol-free coconut extract
2 teaspoons rice syrup
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Place the egg whites, cream of tartar, and cold extract in a medium-sized bowl.
- Beat the egg white mixture with a wire whisk or electric beater until the egg whites stand up in firm peaks.
- Slowly add the rice syrup or stevia powder, continuing to beat until the sweetener is well incorporated into the egg whites.
- Fold in the coconut into the mixture.
- Drop cone-shaped tablespoons of the egg white mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until firm.
For Your Gluten-Free Baking Needs, Use Coconut Flour
If you suffer from abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, and diarrhea every time you eat bread, rice, or pastries, it’s likely that you have wheat or gluten intolerance.
Almost three million Americans today have gluten intolerance, which occurs when your body cannot properly digest gluten, a gluey protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
The best thing you can do is to switch to a gluten-free diet. In my experience, at least 75 to 80 percent of ALL people benefit from avoiding grains.
However, many people often find it difficult to switch to a gluten-free lifestyle and simply cannot forgo their favorite pasta, muffins, pies, and cookies. Others switch to gluten-free alternatives that are made from soy flour, but this is also detrimental to your health, as unfermented soy products are linked to food allergies and other health conditions.
Your best option is to use coconut flour.
Coconut flour is made from coconut solids (a byproduct of coconut milk) that are ground into a very fine, flour-like powder. It does not trigger gluten and other food sensitivities, so it’s safe to use regularly, even for people with allergies to milk or wheat.
Coconut flour is not only gluten-free, but is also loaded with non-digestible dietary fiber.
Because your body cannot digest coconut flour’s dietary fiber, you don’t get any calories from it. In fact, coconut flour has the highest percentage of dietary fiber – 48 percent – found in any flour!
So if you are looking for a healthy way to eat your favorite grain-based foods without the burden of gluten, make the switch to coconut flour now.
A Few Tips When Baking With Coconut Flour
Keep in mind that coconut flour is not like conventional grain flours. Many people think that they can simply substitute coconut flour 100 percent in place of other flours (for example, using 1 cup coconut flour for a recipe that calls for 1 cup of wheat flour), but this may not work, and the mixture may either fall apart or end up being too dry.
Coconut flour is very absorbent, so instead, you can use just 1/4 to 1/3 cup of coconut flour for every 1 cup of grain-based flour stated in the recipe.
I’ve discovered another solution to this problem, and that is to add one egg per ounce of coconut flour. The egg will take the place of gluten and will bind the mixture together. So this means if the recipe calls for four ounces of coconut flour, you will need to use four eggs.
You can also use other sticky substitutes to bind the coconut flour together. One great idea is to use raw honey, as it will act as a sweetener as well as a binding agent. Chia or flax seeds, xanthan gum, and guar gum can also work, as they can develop an egg-like consistency when mixed with water. Here’s one great idea: soak a tablespoon of ground flax seed in three tablespoons of water. This can be used as a substitute for one egg.
To add a richer coconut flavor to your baked goods, use coconut oil as shortening instead of butter or margarine. Its light flavor is perfect, especially if you’re making coconut cake or coconut cream pie crust.
Start Making Your Own Coconut Recipes at Home
Don’t miss out on the health-promoting benefits of coconut. To get you started on adding this healthful food to your daily meals, I advise using coconut flour in place of wheat flour for your next batch of pancakes, cookies, or muffins – a guilt- and gluten-free treat that you and your family will love.