By Chelsea Fisher
If you’re in treatment, coconut flavored soups and stews can be comforting, tasty, and provide essential nutrients, calories, and antioxidants to help get you though it.
Coconut has been used in Southern Asian cooking for millennia. It is rich in lauric acid, which is said to have antimicrobial properties and help boost the immune system. But coconut is also high in saturated fat, so it’s best to use it in moderation.
On the flip side of the issue, there is speculation as to how the specific kind of fats found in coconut affects us. According to the LA Times, many studies have found that the saturated fats in coconut are less harmful to our health than those found in dairy products or meat. They may even aid in weight loss. Unfortunately, the current studies have not been conclusive enough to warrant majorly chowing down on the sweet stuff, but you shouldn’t let its fatty reputation keep you from adding its rich, tropical flavor to curries and soups.
Coconut is most often used in cooking either in its shredded, dried form or blended with water to make coconut milk. There are two different types of coconut milk: The traditional canned version that can be found in the Asian aisle in most supermarkets, and the carton milk that can be found in the dairy case. For recipes, the canned kind is almost always what is called for, while the carton variety can be used as a replacement for dairy milk in smoothies, cereal, or on its own as a beverage. Though the canned variety may look exotic, it is really only coconut flesh blended with water and passed through a sieve. It is well worth keeping in your pantry especially since there are low fat ‘Lite’ versions readily available.
We only use unsweetened coconut products in our recipes. Many come with added sugar, particularly dried coconut, so read the nutrition labels before popping them into your cart. Same thing goes for canned coconut. Don’t confuse coconut milk with cream of coconut, the main ingredient in pina coladas. It’s loaded with sugar and is no substitute for the real thing. For those watching calories, buy the light canned coconut milk. It still provides great taste, and, in fact, many of our recipes call for light coconut milk instead of regular because of its thinner, less fatty consistency.
We use coconut milk in many of our curries and soups to either give it a nice tropical essence or to thicken it up. Dried unsweetened coconut can be used as a substitute but it must be soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes first. You’ll get the taste, but not the creaminess of coconut milk. Coconut milk is delicious in our Thai Style Sweet Potato Curry or our Squash Coconut Curry Noodles. Give them a try. Coconut milk is a also great dairy substitute for the lactose intolerant. We love the creamy flavor it gives to desserts that would otherwise use classic dairy milk, like our (Healthier) Pumpkin Pie, Coconut Banana Bread Pudding, and our Pineapple Coconut Gelato. If your throat is sore from radiation, adding coconut milk and flesh to a smoothie can boost your calorie intake without hurting your sensitive mouth and throat.