We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Incredible Coconut and a Tale of Two Curries: Part One

 by Linda

   If you are among those who love coconut, but still think of it as a fatty shredded addition to some of our most beloved desserts, and therefore is something to be indulged in sparingly because of its high saturated fat content, then the news that I have for you just might make your day. Coconut is not only delicious, but it is a nutritional super star, and the fat that the coconut provides might be destined to be your new best friend because surprise... it is good for you! The humble coconut has sustained large populations of peoples in the tropical world for generations, who are for the most part, not obese, and do not have heart disease. They are also known for their beautiful skin and hair. Globally, the coconut is the most extensively grown and used nut in the world and is the most important palm.
It might look like ice cream, but it's not. Coconut oil is solid under 76°F.
   Most of the objections that I have read concerning coconut, condemn it because the oil is comprised of almost completely saturated fat. First, a word about saturated fat. Saturated fat is stable. Therefore, unlike vegetable oils, which are made up of mostly polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats are resistant to mutation. This means that saturated fat is less subject to very unhealthy changes over time (as it sits aging on your pantry shelf) or when it is subjected to heat when cooking, which is also very important. More importantly most people do not realize that these ubiquitous vegetable oils (canola, safflower, corn, sunflower... you name it), are heated up to very high temperatures when processed. They are basically "pre-rancidified" in order for them to be able to sit on the grocery store shelf for years at a time. Most fats are very perishable, require refrigeration and have short shelf lives unless they go through this unhealthy processing. Although the topic is controversial, I am in the camp that believes that high quality saturated fat is essential to your health. If you would like to read more about the benefits of saturated fat, please check out "Love Thy Saturated Fat" written by my friend and co-worker, Misty, who is our Nutritional/Wellness Educator at work (Whole Foods Market). I realize that the information provided in Misty's article is the exact opposite of what most of us continue to be told about fats, but much of what we are told about fats is... how shall I say this delicately... misinformation that has been promulgated by very large corporate interests who produce products with poor quality oils because they are inexpensive. These unstable oils are often (adding insult to injury) altered again and chemically changed into evil trans fats in order to extend the shelf life of the commercial product. On the other hand, consider the following information from the Coconut Research Center:

Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a "functional food" because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called "The Tree of Life." Only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut's amazing healing powers. 

   Another interesting fact about the saturated fat of the coconut, is that the oil is comprised of mostly medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA), also known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). This is important information. Most of the oils that we consume in our Western diets come from, whether they are saturated or unsaturated or come from animals or plants, are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). Some 98 to 100% of all the fatty acids we consume are LCFA. The fats in the coconut, which are short chain, do not require pancreatic enzymes to break them down, resulting in much more efficient and quick digestion. Since the fat in coconut can be used easily by the body, it can be burned readily for energy. This is why it has become a favorite with those who would like to lose weight

   Since I have always loved coconut for its delicious flavor, discovering that the coconut that I have always adored is really good for me is an added boon. These days I am on a mission to find new ways to use coconut in recipes that do not use refined carbohydrates (white sugar and white flour), which are the real culprits in our obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes epidemics. My pantry is stocked with the proverbial coconut milk and shredded coconut, but you will also find coconut oil (purchase extra virgin cold pressed), coconut butter, coconut flour, coconut water and coconut milk ice cream.

   The winter season in Northern California this year has brought unaccustomed dry weather and very cold temperatures. Recently I was in the mood to warm myself up with a hot Panang curry, so I looked up a recipe for it on one of my favorite food blogs featuring Thai cuisine... She Simmers. Having purchased a pressure cooker recently, I adapted the recipe (and a few of the ingredients). It was yummy, if I do say so myself. Using the pressure cooker allowed me to have a steaming bowl of curry on the table in just over an hour.

Panang Curry with Beef~ Using a Pressure Cooker 

A large pressure cooker (mine is an 8 liter made by Sitram)

2.5- 3 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1.5-inch cubes (use a tough cut of meat that needs to be tenderized from the cooking process)
1 13.5-ounce can of full fat coconut milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup (2 to 4 ounces) of Panang curry paste depending on your heat tolerance ( I used Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste)
3 tablespoons of natural and unsweetened peanut butter (I use 365 from Whole Foods)
6-7 fresh kaffir lime leaves, cut into very thin strips (do not use dried)
2 Tbsps coconut oil for browning the meat

1/4 cup fish sauce
3 Tbsps palm coconut sugar
sliced fresh or pickled jalapeño chiles for garnish (I prefer pickled)
roasted and salted peanuts for garnish

1. Heat the pressure cooker pot over medium high flame. Add coconut oil to the pot. When melted and very hot, add the chunks of beef to the pot. Brown the meat. When meat is browned (caramelization has occurred) it is ready to add the coconut milk and curry mixture (see next step). Do not salt the meat (fish sauce is very salty).
2. While the meat is browning, heat up the coconut milk in a saucepan with the curry paste and a couple of kaffir lime leaves. When the mixture starts bubbling turn off the heat and allow to sit. 

3. When the meat is browned,  remove the kaffir lime leaves from the coconut milk and curry mixture and then and pour the mix into the pressure cooker. Stir to make sure the beef is coated with the curry mixture. Add the fish sauce and palm coconut sugar to the pot and gently stir until blended. Liquid should mostly cover the meat. If more liquid is needed add coconut milk, coconut water, or water. 
4. Immediately turn the heat down and attach the lid of the pressure cooker following your manufacturer's instructions. Keep the heat on low. When steam is coming through the regulation valve set the timer for one hour. Allow mixture to cook adjusting temperature as needed to maintain proper pressure. After one hour, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and run cold water over the top and the sides. Remove lid with caution and set aside. You will no longer need the lid. Put the pan back on low heat and stir in the peanut butter, and half of the julienned kaffir lime leaves. 
Serve the curry, sprinkled on the top with the remaining kaffir lime leaf strips, roasted peanuts and the jalapeño as desired. Spoon the mixture over the cooked rice of your choice and enjoy. 

To be continued next week with Part Two by Michelle...


  1. My pressure cooker has a high and a low pressure indicator. Which of these should be used for this recipe?

    1. I am thinking that you must have an electric pressure cooker, Helena? I believe that you should use the high setting. The stew meat is tough and needs the high heat to tenderize the meat in an hour.

  2. Again (and again and again) another divine sounding recipe and beautiful photography. (love the blue and gold glasses) I have yet to incorporate coconut water, milk or oil to our diets, but will make a concerted effort as I have been reading more and more about its benefits. I just recently learned to use a pressure cooker and now wonder what I ever did without it!

    1. Hi Zoe! Don't you just love your pressure cooker? I haven't had mine very long, but I am finding so many uses for it! I love those blue and gold glasses, too. I am a dish/plate/glasses junkie. Those were an early Christmas present to me this year from Cost Plus. I really should stay out of that store!

  3. Pressure cookers rule! I turned up my nose at the one my husband brought to our marriage, but once I started, I was hooked. Oxtail stews, beans in no time, a whole chicken for soup..Yup, I'm hooked. Ours is Italian so in MY mind, makes it even better! Ciao.


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