Saturday, November 28, 2009

Coconut Pumpkin Pie

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.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Millet Flour Flatbread (Bajari Rotlo)

Millet is possibly the first domesticated cereal grain. Recent evidence suggests that it has been grown in East Asia since 8000 BC and was the staple grain before the popularization of rice. Its cultivation is mentioned in the Bible.

Today millet is the sixth most cultivated grain in the world, but is largely unknown in North America and Europe. India and Nigeria are the world’s largest producers, followed by China and several African countries. It is a hardy crop that grows well without fertilizer and in water-poor environments. As a result it is widely cultivated in the global South, especially among the poorest people in these regions. It is generally not traded in the international markets.

Millet is gluten-free and non-allergenic. It is high in protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and B-complex vitamins. It is popularly used to make porridge in Russia and China, and is an important alcohol grain in Nepal, China, Balkan countries and India.

In Gujarat and other parts of India, where my family has its roots, millet is used to make the traditional local staple flatbread (known as rotlo or bhakri). Rotlo is thicker, coarser and more rigid than chapati, with which it has now largely been replaced. This recipe is a spicy version, but rotlo is traditionally made only with both flours, salt, oil and water (one can make the recipe below with just those five ingredients). My mother tells me that as a baby, I loved to eat yogurt with crushed rotlo. I guess some things never change...

3 cups millet flour (also known as bajari)
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons dried fenugreek leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger paste
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic paste
4 green onions, thinly chopped
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups water

1. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix all the ingredients (except the water).
2. Add 1 cup of water to form a dough. Add additional water slowly until all the flour is incorporated and you have a soft but firm dough.
3. In the meantime, heat a large non-stick skillet on medium-high heat.
4. Separate dough into four balls.
5. Place one ball on an unused J cloth or silicone baking mat on a flat surface.
6. Flatten the ball using your fingers to press dough towards the edge. Continue until the bread is about 1/4 inch thick and about 7 to 8 inches in diameter. Make sure it is even in thickness.
7. Lift the J cloth or mat to transfer the bread onto one of your hands (flat side up) and run under a small stream of water until wet.
8. Place the bread (wet side down) on the skillet. Cook for two minutes.
9. Moisten the top of the bread and flip. Cook for an additional two minutes.
10. Flip back to original side and cook for one further minute. Using a flat spatula, remove to a plate. Eat warm and serve with yogurt or vegetable curry.