TND – Put the Lime in the Coconut

August 23, 2013

carrot curls

If you’ve ever tried to cook a vintage recipe – or tried to recreate some recipe your grandmother always used to make – you’ve probably run into the problem that older recipes tend to be frustratingly short on details. For example, my grandmother’s recipe for Moravian Coffee Cake (which incidentally is (a) the best coffee cake ever, and (b) why I don’t particularly like the crumb topped coffee cakes you usually see – see below the crunchy sugary glory of a Moravian Coffee Cake)

moravian coffee cake

is a little too vague on specifics for me to attempt to make it without doing some research to nail down quantities, times, and textures. It’s got the basics (flour, sugar, yeast, mashed potato), but veers into ‘here there be dragons’ territory when it comes to exactly how much flour (enough to make a stiff, but not too stiff dough), and how much butter (enough to cover tuck into indentations all over the dough).


Chris Kimball from America’s Test Kitchen has a very plausible theory for why your grandmother’s recipes are always so aggravatingly short on particulars. It isn’t because your grandmother has it out for you, and doesn’t want you to be able to recreate her special dish (well, at least that’s not true for my grandmother). Rather, people used to have a much more limited repertoire of recipes – maybe 50 or 60 – that they made all the time. They didn’t need specifics because they made those recipes so often that they had them memorized. Today most of us work from a much larger collection of recipes – I certainly like to experiment with flavors and cuisines – and so we need much more detailed recipes because we’re cooking outside of a comfortable routine.

I am a big believer in cooking from a recipe. I’m not saying that I never add a little of this, or subtract a little of that. I routinely substitute mint or basil whenever a recipe calls for cilantro because I’m part of the population that thinks cilantro tastes unpleasant. I almost always add more lemon juice than is called for in a recipe, because my personal taste runs towards the more citrusy the better. I’ll add in herbs and spices that aren’t called for, because I think the flavor profile will work well with whatever I’m making. I’ll adjust the seasoning of a dish as I make it. However, that said, I almost always have a recipe out on the counter as a fairly specific guide. I’m not a throw things in the pot kind of a cook – I like a road map that includes stop signs, turns, and traffic lights, not just a meandering line on a piece of paper.

That said, sometimes I need to remind myself that I should listen to my common sense and ignore the recipe. If I’d obeyed that particular injunction this week I could have saved myself from a sheet pan of burned panko crumbs, and a batch of rice that managed to be both gummy and undercooked at the same time.

Common sense told me that putting a pan of panko bread crumbs in a 475 oven for 7 minutes would smoke out my kitchen and leave me with a pile of carbonized breadcrumbs. However, the America’s Test Kitchen recipe said to toast them in the oven, and ATK is usually pretty idiot proof, and since I had the oven on anyway I went ahead and attempted to toast my panko in the oven. Common sense was right, and I had charcoal before I could turn around to rescue my pan. I reverted to my tried and true method of toasting panko in a skillet over high heat, stirring frequently. This worked much better.

Common sense told me that there was no way that ½ cup of water was enough liquid to cook 2/3 cup of jasmine rice. But, Ottolenghni told me it could be done, and so I tried. I ended up with a pan of rice that was burned to the bottom of the pan, distinctly crunchy in the middle, and gummy on the outside. In other words, a failure on all counts. I didn’t have any jasmine rice left, but fortunately I did have some basmati, so I followed the much saner instructions on the back of the bag of basmati rice and 20 minutes later had pan of fragrant fluffy rice.

Common sense also suggested that the zest and juice of 1 lemon was not going to be enough to season the amount of rice, peppers, and peaches that were in the salad. However, by this point I had started listening to the little voice in the back of my head that was telling me the recipe was wrong, and pulled some coconut milk out of the freezer to whisk with the lemon juice to form a dressing for the salad (and up the coconut flavor). Common sense and I were right, and the modified dressing was excellent.

Coconut Chicken Nuggets with Orange Dipping Sauce
Mango & Coconut Rice Salad
Gingery Sweet Pickled Vegetables
Kale Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Coconut Chicken Nuggets with Orange Dipping Sauce
(serves 4-6)

I’m not convinced I tasted the coconut in these, but they were good in the way that crispy breaded chicken is always good. I might try it with shredded unsweetened coconut next time, because I felt like the shreds of the sweetened flaked coconut were too big to adhere to the chicken well. I think I also might try a higher ratio of coconut to panko. The sauce, however, was perfect.

chicken nuggets

Coconut Chicken Nuggets
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
4 egg whites, beaten
Flour (at least ½ cup)
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ lb chicken (or shrimp)

Toss the panko bread crumbs with the vegetable oil to coat and then toast in a skillet until the panko is just starting to brown (stir frequently to prevent burning). Add the sweetened coconut and continue to toast for another 1-2 minutes, or until the coconut is just starting to brown a little. Allow to cool.

Line a sheet pan with foil, and then arrange a wire rack over the pan and lightly coat with oil. Preheat your oven to 475.

Mix the flour with the salt and cayenne pepper. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites.

Cut the chicken into strips or nugget sized pieces (if using shrimp – use them whole). Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, then dip in the egg whites, and then dredge in the panko-coconut mixture. Place on the prepared wire rack.

Spray the chicken lightly with olive oil or vegetable oil. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cooked through (shrimp will only need about 5-7 minutes to cook through).

Orange Dipping Sauce
¾ cup orange juice
3 Tbsp marmalade
1 Tbsp sweet chili sauce*
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp cornstarch
Pinch each of: ginger, garlic powder, salt, pepper
Lemon juice (to taste)

Whisk together all of the ingredients except the lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Season to taste with lemon juice.

* If you didn’t have any sweet chili sauce in your pantry and didn’t want to buy an entire bottle for 1 Tbsp, you could add an additional 1 Tbsp of marmalade and some red pepper flakes instead.

Peach & Coconut Rice Salad
(serves 6-8)
Based on an Ottolenghi recipe, amended as needed to actually cook the rice, up the coconut flavor, and take advantage of all the lovely stone fruit on display at the farmer’s market right now.

rice salad - 1

Three notes on this:

The original recipe calls for Camargue Red Rice instead of short grain brown rice. Perhaps Camargue Red Rice is readily available in London – it’s certainly easy for my mother who lives within driving distance of the Camargue to find (she did offer to mail me some, but I didn’t think it would get to me in time for Dinner) – but if it’s available in Boston, I failed to uncover it. However, cross referencing my mother with the internet suggested that Camarague Red Rice has a nutty taste and a slightly chewy bite, and that while a short grain brown rice wouldn’t deliver the same kind of color punch, it would approximate the flavor profile.

I also saw suggestions for substituting another colored rice like a forbidden black rice or purple rice for the Camargue Red Rice. This would certainly deliver the same kind of striking color contrast, but I’m not sure would work quite as well flavor-wise.

The original recipe called for cooking 2/3 cup jasmine rice with ½ cup water and a handful of basil stems. I tried this and ended up with uncooked rice. The basil did smell amazing as it cooked with the rice, because basil always smells amazing, but I couldn’t detect that it had imparted any flavor to the rice. So, when I made my second batch of rice with basmati (because that’s what I had on hand) I omitted the basil in the cooking liquid (the ratio of rice : water listed below will result in cooked rice) and just used fresh basil in the salad.

The original recipe says that this serves 4 people. I don’t know what four people Ottolenghi is feeding with this recipe, because I doubled it and had enough to serve about 14-16 people. And that’s Dinner folk who eat more than normal people.

rice salad - 2

2/3 cup basmati rice
1 tsp butter
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup short grain brown rice (or Camargue Red Rice if you can find it)
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup basil, roughly chopped
½ cup mint, roughly chopped (or use 2 Tbsp mint, and the balance cilantro)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 fresno chili, seeded & finely chopped
½ cup salted peanuts, roughly chopped
2/3 cup flaked unsweetened coconut (fresh if you can get it)
3-4 peaches (or 1 large mango), chopped to a 1” dice
Juice of 2 lemons / Zest of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp coconut milk (or more to taste)
1 tsp honey

Bring the 1 1/3 cups water and butter to a simmer on the stove. Add the basmati rice, stir. Cover, and allow to simmer over a low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until tender. Turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 minutes. Spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the brown rice and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until tender but still slightly chewy. Drain well, and then spread the rice on a baking sheet to cool.

Rice can be cooked and cooled the night before.

Whisk together the lemon juice and zest, coconut milk (I know this is annoying amount of coconut milk – I tend to keep coconut milk in the freezer and use as needed), honey (or, I used a drizzle of the peach moonshine because I had it in my fridge – and another time I might use a peach schnapps or something like a triple sec or Cointreau any of which I tend to have in my pantry – but honey will work just fine).

Toss the rice and all the remaining ingredients except the peaches together. Drizzle with dressing. Toss again. Season to taste. Gently fold in the chopped peaches.

Gingery Sweet Pickled Vegetables
These aren’t pickle-y in a salty dill pickle kind of way. They are gingery and a little sweet and still fairly crunchy. They do need the three days in the fridge to taste like anything, and thereafter they get spicier and spicier. I liked them best 3 days after I’d made them when the ginger flavor was most pronounced, and the chili lent a subtle kick in the background. Earlier than that and the ginger didn’t really come through enough, and longer and the chili just kind of took over.


½ lb pickling cucumbers, ends trimmed & then sliced into ½” thick rounds
2 cups carrot slices, about ¼” thick sliced on the diagonal
1 large bell (red) pepper, cut into 1” squares
¾ lb sweet white onion (I used vidalias), cut into ½” cubes and slightly separated
½ cup ginger, peeled & thinly sliced (about 1/8” thick on a mandoline)
1 ½ cups rice wine vinegar
1 ½ cups water
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp kosher or pickling salt
1-2 dried red chilis, seeded

Sprinkle the sliced cucumbers with ½ tsp salt and let sit for 1-2 hours. Rinse well (at least twice) before adding to the other vegetables.

Place the remaining vegetables in a large container.

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, remaining ½ tsp salt, chilis, and ginger to a simmer in saucepan and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool to luke warm and then pour over the vegetables.

Allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for 3 days. Eat.

Kale Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

Recipe previously given: Oscars 2012

kale salad


One comment

  1. […] Recipe previously given: Put the Lime in the Coconut […]

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