As avid readers of Treat a Week have noted, coconut is one of my favorite ingredients. It has made appearances in curries, cakes and bars among other recipes on his blog. However, I’ve never written about coconuts, so I figured Thanksgiving is as good a time as any.
Coconuts palm trees are thought to have originated in South Asia, though some authorities believe that they developed in northwestern South America. Through the dispersal of coconuts (which serve as seeds) in ocean waters and human cultivation, coconut palms are now found throughout the tropics. They require wet, warm, humid and sunny climates; they also do well in sandy and saline environments. The largest coconut producers in the world are Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Brazil and Thailand.
Several food products are derived from coconuts. Coconut water is the sterile fluid in the cavity of the fruit and is often consumed as a refreshing beverage. Coconut meat, the fleshly part of the nut, can be eaten fresh or dried. The flesh can also be processed with hot water or milk to produce coconut milk. Refrigerated coconut milk separates and the non-liquid portion that rises to the top is coconut cream, which is used primarily in sweet dishes such as piña coladas. Several other culinary products can be produced from coconut palm trees – flower cluster sap can be fermented to produce palm wine, coconut nectar is extracted from young buds, coconut sprout is found in newly germinated coconuts, and heart-of-palm is extracted from the inner core of the tree.
This variation on quintessential pumpkin pie is based on a recipe by my friend Elliot, a former restaurateur in Seattle. I use shredded coconut meat in the crust and coconut cream in the filling, which gives it a rich and tropical flavor. The lime zest adds freshness and another layer of complexity.
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup finely shredded, desiccated coconut (Asian markets are the best place to find this)
1/3 cup unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 prepared graham cracker crust
3 eggs, lightly beaten or egg substitute
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)
8 to 12 oz cream of coconut (I use Coco Lopez brand) – make it as rich as you would like
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
zest of one lime
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. If you are making a crust, mix graham cracker crumbs, coconut, sugar and butter. Using the back of a spoon or your hands, pat the mixture along the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. I find that a metal dish works best (sometimes the crust gets stuck to a glass dish).
3. In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Pour into the piecrust.
4. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the center is set (should not jiggle when shaken slightly). If the pie starts to brown, reduce the temperature to 275F and bake until set.
5. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight. Serve the next day – chilled or at room temperature. You can decorate it with whipped cream and serve more on the side.