Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gone Coconuts

For all that I love to tout local foods here, I do admit a weakness for certain foods that are most definitely not native to this Muskingum River watershed.

Examples abound: It's well known that I love to bake with chocolate, and the darker, the better. I'm extraordinarily fond of ginger, especially when paired with lime. And though I'm trying to wean myself off caffeinated beverages, I do still harbor great fondness for both coffee and tea.

Add to this list, then, coconut milk. I've long loved the taste of coconut (a fondness not inherited from my Dear Papa, that's for sure), and in recent years I've come to appreciate the potential of creamy coconut milk to make some very exotic recipes.

Lest you think I've fallen completely off the sustainable-food bandwagon, let me assure you that I do buy the organic coconut milk when I buy (it's a small step, at least). And for those appalled by the high fat content, I remind you that there is a "light" version available that works just as well.

It's not often that I cook with coconut milk, but when I get an urge to use it, I try to spread it around a couple of different recipes. Fortunately, my recent perusal of Vegan With a Vengeance gave me that opportunity.

One of the recipes to catch my eye was for a coconut-mint chutney, and since I have mint in abundance, I decided to give it a go. I also knew I needed a snack-like Indian-style dish to go with it, and as I wasn't up for the effort of making samosas, I chose instead to make an Indian-spiced version of eggplant parmigiana, with a cumin-laced cornmeal breading.

A match made in heaven: crispy eggplant, creamy but savory chutney (which I later blended; a much happier solution). What's not to love?

Then, since I had that marvelous coconut flavor in my mouth, I decided I wanted coconut in my dessert. I pulled out my trusty "Big Red" and found a butterscotch blondie brownie recipe that I adapted to showcase sweetened flaked coconut, mini diced candied ginger, and fresh lime juice.

Buttery and filled with tropical flavors (as well as good local whole wheat flour and eggs; I'm not that decadent!), these coconut-ginger-lime bars made a blissful ending to a meal that took me miles away in my mind. (Well, it was warm enough out to make me feel as though I'd been transported to the tropics, anyway.)

I still have more coconut milk leftover, so expect to hear about my continuing adventures soon.

I think you'll go coconuts for these ideas, too.

Coconut-Ginger-Lime Bars

Many times, I'll get a great idea in my head for the flavor combination I want to try, and what sort of result I want, but I have to search for the recipe to adapt to get that result. Happily, the Betty Crocker Cookbook has a wide variety of basic cookie recipes, and when I found the recipe for "Butterscotch Brownies," I knew I'd found what I was looking for. It's so easy to make that, really, I shouldn't need a recipe, but it's always good to get proportions right. I splurged earlier this year on the coconut extract and have been happy to find recipes in which to use it to bring out the coconut flavor. If you don't have it, don't worry about it.

1/2 c butter, melted
1 1/2 c Sucanat or brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
juice of 1/2 lime
freshly grated peel of one lime
1/2 tsp coconut extract (if you have it)
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c chopped candied ginger
1/2 c coconut flakes (plus more for decoration)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 12 baking pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, Sucanat or sugar, eggs, vanilla, lime juice and peel, and coconut extract.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt, and add gradually to the wet ingredients, stirring until well mixed. Fold in candied ginger and coconut flakes.

Spread batter in prepared pan, and sprinkle with more coconut, if desired. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes 15-24 squares, depending on how big you want them


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