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TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking With Coconut Oil

If you like coconut, have you cooked with coconut oil?

We’re not talking about hydrogenated coconut oil, a trans fat long been used in American processed foods, which has been phased out of use over the past few years.

We’re talking extra virgin coconut oil, which is 90% saturated fat but of a type that metabolizes in the body similar to an unsaturated fat. It thus does not increase LDL (bad) cholesterol.

  • Pressed from the fruit (the “flesh” or “meat”) of the coconut, coconut oil is very popular in India and throughout Southeast Asia. It adds a hint of coconut flavor and aroma to cooked dishes.
  • If you don’t want the coconut aroma and flavor, you can use refined coconut oil. But since we only use coconut oil for that hint of coconut, why bother when there other neutral oils in the pantry?
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    At room temperature, coconut oil solidifies but turns liquid as soon as it hits the heat (or if your room is warmer than 76°F). Don’t put it in the fridge: It will turn rock-hard.

    You can find liquid coconut oil, which is fractionated coconut oil that has had the good-for-you lauric acid removed so it doesn’t solidify. It stays liquid, even in the fridge. Use it on your hair and skin if you want, but not for cooking.

       

    Coconut-oil-dr-bronner-230

    The same coconut oil that is used to cook is also used as a beauty product to make skin soft and hair shiny. Photo of virgin coconut oil—Fair Trade, organic and certified kosher—courtesy Dr. Bronner.

     
    DIFFERENT TYPES OF COCONUT OIL

    When you’re in the store, you may discover a confusing list of options, including extra virgin coconut oil, virgin coconut oil, expeller-pressed coconut oil, the aforementioned liquid coconut oil, and generic products simply called “coconut oil.”

    Go with the virgin or extra virgin. According to Health Impact News, they’re the same thing. There’s no industry standard for “extra virgin”; it’s simply better marketing that leverages consumers’ preference for extra virgin oil oil.

    Here’s a detailed explanation of the different types of coconut oil.

     

    Coconut-and-oil-w-coconut-PhuThinhCo-230

    Refined coconut oil is pale yellow in color; unrefined (virgin) coconut oil is white.
    Photo courtesy Phu Thinh Co.

     

    WAYS TO USE COCONUT OIL

    Manufacturers use coconut oil in candies, cookies, whipped toppings, nondairy creamers and other foods. At home, we use it to add a hint of coconut flavor in:

  • Baked goods
  • Sautéed veggies: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, root vegetables, potatoes
  • Stir fries
  • Sautéed chicken or fish (if you’re making a breading, use half bread crumbs and half flaked unsweetened coconut)
  • Stir fries
  • Marinades
  • Popcorn drizzle (add flaked coconut and toasted almonds!)
  • Bread spread (a vegan friend uses it to make delicious cinnamon toast)
  • Grains, as a butter alternative (we love what it adds to rice, regular and fried)
  •  
    The same coconut oil that is eaten is also used as a beauty product. You can use it to soften skin, shine hair or as a massage oil.
     
    BAKING WITH COCONUT OIL

    You can replace other oils or butter at a 1:1 ratio in baked goods. For shortening, replace 1 part with 3/4 part coconut oil.

    Solid coconut oil will mix like softened butter with other ingredients are at room temperature; but to be sure to please the gods of baking chemistry, we melt it first.
     
    DIFFERENT TYPES OF COCONUT FOR COOKING, BAKING & DRINKING

  • Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of matured coconuts, which are specifically harvested from the coconut palm. A versatile oil, it is used in both cooking and personal care products. It is liquid at room temperature and solid when cold. Look for cold pressed, organic, virgin coconut oil.
  • Coconut butter is the flesh of the coconut which has been ground into a butter. It is creamier than the oil, and a popular dairy-free spread.
  • Coconut flakes are the dried, flaked meat of the coconut. They are our coconut garnish of choice, more impressive than shredded coconut (think grated parmesan cheese vs. shaved parmesan) All shredded/flaked coconut can be eaten raw or lightly toasted, and can be found sweetened and unsweetened.
  • Coconut water is the clear liquid inside young coconuts, before it hardens into meat. It is high in electrolytes, making it good as a sports drink. Contrary to some claims, there is no evidence that it is better for hydration than water. Look for 100% coconut water without added sweetener for the most healthful drink.
  • Coconut milk is produced by gating coconut meat. The full-fat version has a rich taste and is used as a dairy milk replacement in foods and for drinking.
  • Coconut cream is similar to coconut milk, but has had more water removed, giving it a thicker, paste-like texture. It is used to enhance both sweet and savory dishes.
  • Coconut flour is made by grinding dehydrated coconut meat into [a gluten-free] flour. It can be used instead of wheat flour in baking and cooking, but it doesn’t substitute in equal proportions (the recipe usually needs more liquid).
  • Dessicated coconut is coconut meat that has been shredded or flaked, then dried.
  • Shredded coconut is similar to desiccated coconut, but has a coarser texture. It is more toothsome and looks better as a garnish.
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Use Miso Paste

    sweet-white-miso-crumbsandtales-230

    White miso paste, also called mild or sweet
    miso. Photo courtesy CrumbsAndTales.com.
    Try their recipe for carrot, miso and ginger
    salad dressing.

     

    Almost everyone who has been to a Japanese restaurant has had miso soup. But today’s tip includes other things to do with miso (MEE-zoe).

    Thanks to the popularity of miso, you can find at least one type of miso paste in many supermarkets and all natural foods stores (Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, for example).

    Miso is a paste made from soybeans and grains (typically barley or rice), koji (a fungus that serves as a fermenting agent) and sea salt. It can ferment from a short time (for mild homemade miso) to three years (for red miso). The result has the consistency of hummus.

    The fermentation produces an enzyme-rich, living food that contains many beneficial microorganisms. However, it also has a relatively high salt content.

    Miso should be refrigerated and added to cooked foods just before they are removed from the heat.

     

    TYPES OF MISO PASTE

    Different types of miso paste are available in Japanese markets (like Sunrise Mart in New York City). Natural food stores typically carry the three most common.

    The deeper the color, the higher the percentage of soybeans and the stronger the flavor.

  • White miso paste, shiromiso, is the most common form. It has just a small amount of soybeans; the majority ingredient is riceor barley. White miso is also called mild miso and sweet miso, and is used mostly in salad dressings and marinades. It is also incorporated into Japanese and vegan desserts.
  • Yellow miso paste is stronger than white miso. It is a combination of barley and rice, and the most versatile of the varieties, used for glazes, marinades and soups.
  • Red miso paste is the strongest, fermented the longest to a deep red or deep brown color, made from mostly soybeans. The more percentage of soybeans, the longer the fermentation and the deeper the color. It is used to add heartier flavors to vegetables asparagus, eggplant and kale; dips, sauces and spreads.
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    WAYS TO USE MISO PASTE

    In Japan, miso soup is a culinary staple, whisked into dashi (stock) and enjoyed at any meal, starting with breakfast. It is also used to give an earthier flavor to noodle soups, such as ramen and udon.

    It is also used as a condiment/seasoning:

  • Braising meats, seafood (try miso-braised cod) and vegetables (try eggplant and mushrooms)
  • Compound butter: East meets West (how to make compound butter)
  • Dips and spreads: season with spices and use with crudités and rice crackers
  • Dressing: whisked into a dressing for salads and cooked vegetables
  • Grilling, as an overnight marinade and a glaze (coat corn on the cob, wrap in foil and grill)
  • Pickling, for a sweeter variety of vegetables pickles
  • Sauces: misoyaki is a variant of teriyaki
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    Americans have incorporated miso into Western cuisine, from gravy to risotto and quich. For inspiration, pick up a book like The Miso Book: The Art of Cooking with Miso. It not only has many recipes, but shows you how to make your own miso paste from scratch.

    Start by making miso soup and salad dressing with the recipes below.

    RECIPE: EASY MISO DRESSING

    Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil (peanut, vegetable)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons white miso
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey or 1/4 teaspoon agave
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
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    miso-soup-2-sushiloungeNJ-230

    A familiar bowl of miso soup. Photo courtesy Sushi Lounge | NJ.

  • Optional additions: chili flakes/sriracha, grated fresh ginger, peanut butter
  •  
    Preparation

    1. WHISK the ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Taste and add more honey or vinegar as you prefer.

    2. STORE leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.

     
    RECIPE: EASY MISO SOUP

    Ingredients

  • 8 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant dashi granules*
  • 1/4 cup red miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried seaweed, reconstituted in water and drained
  • 1/2 cup cubed tofu
  • 2 tablespoons green onion, chopped
  •  
    Preparation

    1. ADD the water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add the instant dashi; whisk to dissolve. Turn the heat to medium-low and add the tofu and seaweed. Simmer for 2 minutes. While the soup simmers…

    2. SPOON the miso paste into a bowl. Ladle 1/2 cup of the hot dashi broth into the bowl and whisk until the miso paste melts and is the mixture smooth.

    3. TURN off the heat and add the miso paste to the pot. Stir well. Taste the soup and whisk in another 1-2 tablespoons of miso paste as desired. Garnish with green onions and serve immediately.

     
    *This is the easy version; the soup will be ready in 10 minutes. When you have time, try a recipe that uses homemade dashi stock, made from fish and kelp. For quick recipes, dashi is also available in a bouillon cube format.

      

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    RECIPE: Tuna Salad With Poached Egg & Vinaigrette

    We love Ozery Breads, and as we were checking out recipes on the company’s website we came across this tasty idea: Tuna Salad With Poached Egg.

    Hard boiled eggs are included in various salads—Chef Salad, Cobb Salad and Spinach Salad, for example—and chopped into egg, potato and tuna salads. So why not experiment with a poached egg, with a runny yolk that can augment the dressing?

    At Ozery, they enjoy this salad with their Zero Low Low Light Rye OneBun.

    Optional avocado slices also contribute to the richness of the dish.

    RECIPE: TUNA SALAD WITH POACHED EGG

    Ingredients

  • Mixed salad greens
  • 1 egg per person
  • Tuna
  • Olive oil vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • Optional: avocado slices
  • Garnish: sunflower seeds
  • Bread of choice for toast
  •    

    tuna-salad-poached-egg-ozery-230

    A new way to enjoy salad: with tuna and a poached egg. Photo courtesy Ozery.

     

    Preparation

    1. FILL a larage pan with water and a pinch of salt, and bring it to a light simmer over a medium heat. Crack the egg and gently float it into the water. Cook for about 3-4 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. While the egg poaches…

    2 TOAST the bread. Cut into 4 pieces.

    3. PLACE the greens on a plate and drizzle with the dressing. Top with avocado, tuna and poached egg. Sprinkle with sunflowers seeds and season with fresh-ground pepper.

     

    salad-vinaigrette-230

    A vinaigrette will separate easily. To keep it emulsified, whirl it in the blender. Photo by Elena Thewise | ISP.

     

    BASIC VINAIGRETTE RECIPE

    Recently, a dinner guest asked us the “secret” to making a good vinaigrette. It’s simple: Good ingredients make good vinaigrettes. Use the best olive oil and vinegar in the right proportions (3:1) with a bit of seasoning.

    But we like more elaborate flavors in our vinaigrettes. We have an entire shelf of oils and vinegars. In the vinegar category: balsamic, champagne, fruit, herb, malt, red and white wine, rice, sherry and white balsamic. In the oil category: different EVOOS with different flavor profiles (grassy, herbal, mild, peppery and infused—with basil, rosemary, chile, etc.), flavored avocado oils, sesame and roasted nut oils (almond, pecan, pistachio, walnut).

    We do have canola and grapeseed oils, but we don’t use them in salad dressing—not enough flavor.

    When we’re ready to make a vinaigrette, we consider the main course and pick a complementary oil and vinegar. There’s no right or wrong answer as long as you don’t pair heavily-flavored oils and vinegars with delicate dishes. For example, you wouldn’t want a sesame oil vinaigrette with an omelet.

    Which brings up another point: There are different ways to manufacture oil. You have to know what you’re buying.

     
    Seeking walnut oil for a holiday vinaigrette—it delivers a rich, nutty, toasty flavor—we recently purchased a bottle made by International Oils. We were looking for a French import, but it was the only walnut oil on the shelf at Fairway. (Boo, Fairway!) When we got it home, it was bland, with scarcely any walnut flavor.

    Most health food store oils are produced in this style. If you want the true flavor, you need a traditionally produced oil, either imported or from La Tourangelle, a California producer and a NIBBLE Top Pick.

    A final tip: If you’re using a strongly-flavored oil or vinegar, you can omit the mustard and shallot. However, we enjoy complex layerings of flavor, so tend to keep them.

    Ingredients

  • 1/4 vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white wine, other)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot or capers
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
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    Preparation

    1. WHISK together in a small bowl the vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar.

    2. SLOWLY whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Or, if you’re not going to dress the salad immediately, do a more intense emulsification: Shake the ingredients vigorously in a jar; or better, whirl them in a blender or use an immersion blender (an Aerolatte milk frother works great).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Switch To Olive Oil

    Here’s a New Year’s resolution that isn’t tough to keep: Switch from olive oil to butter for your everyday fat.

    You’ve been hearing it for 10 years: olive oil is a heart healthy fat. Here’s what the Harvard School Of Public Health has to say:

    It’s time to end the low-fat myth. That’s because the percentage of calories from fat that you eat, whether high or low, isn’t really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat you eat.

  • Choose foods with healthy fats, limit foods high in saturated fat, and avoid foods with trans fat.
  • “Good” fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—lower disease risk. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds and fish.
  • “Bad” fats—saturated and, especially, trans fats—increase disease risk. Foods high in bad fats include red meat, butter, cheese, and ice cream, as well as processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.
  • And if you have lactose sensitivity, remember that butter is dairy.

       

    Olive_Oil_vs_Butter_Olive-OilEmporium-230

    The choice is yours, but make the right choice. Photo courtesy Olive Oil Emporium.

     

    In 2004, the FDA allowed this health claim:

    “Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

    Last year, researchers at Glasgow University in Scotland suggested that two teaspoons (20 ml) per day of extra virgin olive oil for 6 weeks “would be enough to see beneficial effects for the heart.”

     

    olive-oil-bread-loaf-flavoryourlife-230

    Dip bread in olive oil instead of spreading it with butter. Use a more flavorful EVOO, and add seasonings—herbs, pepper, salt, spices—as well as a splash of balsamic vinegar if you like. Photo courtesy FlavorYourLife.com.

     

    NUTRITIONAL COMPARISON: OLIVE OIL VS. BUTTER

  • Butter: 100 calories per tablespoon, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 3 grams monounsaturated fat. 31mg cholesterol, 82 mg sodium.
  • Olive Oil: 120 calories per tablespoon, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fats, 12 grams healthy fats, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium.
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    Breads, eggs, grains, meat and poultry, popcorn and just about anything cooked with butter can all be cooked in, or accented with, heart-healthy oils instead.

    If you miss the flavor of butter, transition away from it by cooking in oil and finishing the dish by adding a small amount of butter at the end.

    You don’t need to cook with extra virgin olive oil: The heat destroys the delicate flavors that you pay for. Instead of EVOO, look to virgin olive oil or what is known as ordinary olive oil—the major supermarket brands like Bertolli and Filippo Berio. Here are the different grades of olive oil.

    Do, however, use EVOO as a garnish: toss it with pasta, rice and vegetables; use it as a bread dipper. Select olive oils with the flavor profile you prefer—fruity, herbal, peppery, etc. (Alas, since flavor information is rarely on the label, you need to experiment or get recommendations from your retailer.)

    Use the appropriate grade of olive oil for different types of food preparation.

     

    WHAT ABOUT BAKING?

    We use butter for cakes and cookies, because our palate wants butteriness in those foods. But, as everyone who follows the cake mix directions to mix the dry ingredients with olive oil, oils work just fine. Unless you want the flavor of olive oil (Italian olive oil cakes are delicious!), use a neutral oil like canola.

    While you won’t get buttery flavor with oil, it does produce a moist cake, which tends to be be lighter and taller than a cake made with butter. The texture is is a bit more coarse and the crumb is more open (less dense).

    Butter produces shorter, more compact cakes, with a finer texture and a smaller crumb due. The texture will be a bit creamier, and of course it sports that rich, buttery taste.

    Here’s a conversion chart for baking, courtesy of Castillo de Piñar, which has many tips for cooking with olive oil:
    butter-olive-oil-conversion-chart-castillodepinar

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Asian Vinaigrette

    Hungering for a salad dressing served at a local Asian restaurant, we made our own this weekend. It was so easy and delicious, we made up an extra-large batch to keep on hand for regular use.
     
    For lunch we tossed it with a package of shredded cabbage, essentially creating Asian cole slaw to go with sandwiches. Delicious! That evening, we served it with a conventional romaine tossed salad, with bell peppers, cherry tomatoes and red onions (plus some dried cranberries and slivered almonds we wanted to use up).

    This vinaigrette awaits everything from mesclun to Asian chicken salad, steamed vegetables to steamed rice.

    RECIPE: ASIAN VINAIGRETTE

    Ingredients For 1 Cup

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dark sesame oil*
  • 9 tablespoons canola or other salad oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • ½ clove garlic, crushed
  • Optional: dash of sriracha or other hot sauce
  • Optional: 1/8 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
  • Optional: fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  •  

    balsamic-vinaigrette-33073960-JuanMonino-230

    Asian vinaigrette is delicious on any salad. Photo by Juan Monino | IST.

     
    *About The Oil

    We love the flavor of Asian dark sesame oil. It’s very strong, so you only need a touch. We mix a smaller proportion of it with a larger proportion canola oil; you can use your salad oil of choice.

    Don’t try to solve the problem by purchasing light sesame oil: The ones we’ve had tend to be bland and don’t deliver delicious sesame flavor.

    You can use olive oil instead of canola—but not your best EVOO, since the sesame flavor will cover up its flavor nuances.
     
    Preparation

    1. WHISK the ingredients together in a bowl (or use a blender). Let stand for 30 minutes or more to let the flavors meld.

    2. WHISK again before serving.

      

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