One day when I was a kid, the doctor informed my parents that I had extremely high cholesterol, 230 or something like that. This didn’t mean much to me, except that all of the sudden I wasn’t allowed to have hot dogs anymore. Coconut oil shared some of the blame, and it was also banished. I had never heard of coconut oil, but it was a key ingredient in S’mores cereal, which I ate as a matter of course throughout the day, the way Muslims turn towards Mecca and pray at regular intervals. Coconut oil was a demon and it was exorcised from my diet, and soon enough S’mores cereal disappeared from the supermarket (coincidence, or was I keeping the brand afloat?) and I’ve not tasted it since. But to this day, the idea of cooking with coconut milk and its 43 grams of saturated fat per cup has such a tantalizing, forbidden appeal to a healthy cook like myself that I have, in weak moments, succumbed to the temptation.
But here’s the good news. It turns out that coconut oil may not be so bad for us. Recently, many benefits of coconut oil have been discovered. In fact, it has been called a “miracle oil” and has even spawned the Coconut Diet. According to OrganicFacts.net, some benefits of coconut oil include:
hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc.
And of particular interest to readers of this blog:
Coconut oil is often preferred by athletes and body builders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that coconut oil contains [fewer] calories than other oils, its fat content is easily converted into energy and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. Coconut oil helps in boosting energy and endurance, and enhances the performance of athletes.
“Does not lead to the accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries”? Dammit, Mom and Dad! I could have been eating S’mores cereal this whole time!
Oh well. At least I can cook with coconut oil on occasion and feel good about doing so. And you don’t need to feel guilty about making this meal either. It’s a curry dish, Indian or Thai or something. Curry, by the way, originally referred to a cooking process, and now to a type of spicy dish, but not to a seasoning. “Curry powder” is so named because it’s associated with the process or type of dish. So “eating curry” doesn’t mean choking down the powder; it means preparing a curry-style meal.
This meal again highlights what I’m learning to love most about vegetarian food– the sheer variety of different ingredients, particularly vegetables, that the limitations imposed by the vegetarian lifestyle ironically afford you the opportunity to try. If you’re in an eating box, this is how to get out. In this dish: sweet potatoes, curry paste, shallots, bok choy, lime, cilantro, and of course, coconut milk. Come on, when’s the last time you had a meal like this?
Sweet Potato Curry Recipe
- 1 cup uncooked brown basmati rice
- 1 pound sweet potatoes
- 1 can coconut milk
- 3 tsp Thai red curry paste
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 carton firm tofu, drained, dried, and cubed
- 1 Tbsp peanut oil
- a few Tbsp soy sauce
- 6 shallots, thinly sliced
- 4 baby bok choy or 1 head chinese cabbage, cut into half-inch slices
- 1 lime, quartered
Rinse the rice well and put in pot with 2 cups water, 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover for 15-20 minutes until cooked.
While the rice is cooking, heat the coconut milk and 1 cup water in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in curry paste and cilantro and add sweet potatoes and lower the heat.
Heat another skillet over medium heat, then add the tofu cubes. Don’t touch it! Let the tofu get a nice sear for about 5 minutes, add a little peanut oil, then season with salt and some soy sauce and shake up the pan to move the tofu around. Cook for another 3 minutes or so and add to the sweet potatoes.
Wipe the pan and return to the heat with a little peanut oil. Add the shallots and some salt and let caramelize, 4-5 minutes. In another small pot, simmer the bok choy in some salted water for 3-5 minutes. Put some rice on each plate, add sweet pototoes, tofu, and sauce, and garnish with bok choy, shallots, and lime.
A quick note: I say “dried” in reference to the tofu. The way to do this is to cut the block into two thin slabs, lay some paper towels under, over, and between them, and rest a heavy pan on top for 15-30 minutes to squeeze out the liquid. Change the towels a few times if you want it even drier (we didn’t change the towels, but it worked fine). The tofu seared really nicely this way.
This was another really good meal, which is saying a lot considering I’m not a huge tofu fan. In fact, we are awarding yet another 4 cows out of 5. I still feel bad about handing out “4′s” like this, but here’s my justification. A “3″ would be an average meal, something that we liked but probably wouldn’t make again. “4″ is something that we’ll definitely make again. It’s that simple. How to distinguish a “5″? I’m not sure yet, but I think when we have a “5,” we’ll know it.
Enjoy! Come back tomorrow for another one. And by the way, last time I had my cholesterol checked, it was 180. Still slightly above average, but considering my genes, not bad. And a hell of a lot better than when young Matthew was walking around with a ticking time bomb inside of him.