I blame desiccated coconut for my childhood loathing of coconut: that strange chewy texture and pervasive smell in school dinners turned me off everything coconut, from scented bubble bath to Bounty bars.
But, when I discovered Indian cookery in my early twenties – especially the food of southern India, the coconut chutneys that accompanied dosas, the creamy coconut milk curries of Kerala – I realised that not all coconut is created equal.
Whilst I still cannot abide sweet coconut desserts, I now actively look for ways to use that lovely light, delicate taste in my savoury cooking, and have found that, sometimes, replacing my more usual olive oil with coconut oil gives a wonderful extra layer of flavour.
My friends at Vita Coco commissioned me to develop a recipe using coconut oil – with a completely open brief. I didn’t want to go down the super obvious granola bar route, delicious as they are, preferring to think of a way to use coconut oil as an everyday ingredient in the same way that I use olive or cold pressed rapeseed oil.
I’ve also been struggling recently to think of nice things I want to eat when it’s hot outside and the last thing I want to do is eat another Greek salad. This quickly grilled peach salad is a wonderful dish for summer weekday suppers: It takes maybe ten minutes to throw together, is fancy pants enough to serve to friends, and tastes like summer in every mouthful.
The dressing is based on a pesto sauce – using nuts and basil and oil ground together but, instead of pine nuts, I’ve chosen walnuts for their affinity with peaches (almonds would be wonderful too), and replaced the traditional olive oil with coconut oil, for its delicate tropical flavour. I’ve left out the traditional Parmesan cheese as this sauce is so flavourful already and so, if you would like to serve this recipe for vegans, simply omit the Feta cheese.
This recipe is a perfect way to use up harder peaches as they turn sweet and caramelised on the griddle. As it is, I tend to avoid really ripe peaches in this recipe, as they are more difficult to slice evenly, and can fall apart as they cook.
The peaches are particularly nice when served warm, but there’s no reason why they can’t be served cold either. If making for a picnic I would transport the peaches and dressing separately and mix together on arrival.
I like to use peppery rocket in the background here, but really any salad leaf would do – watercress would also be especially nice.
To serve four as a first course, two for supper.
Equipment: a food processor or NutriBullet
2 large peaches – white, if possible
1 bag of rocket (approx. 125grams)
1 ½ tsps Vita Coco coconut oil
100 grams/4oz Feta cheese
For the dressing:
60grams Vita Coco coconut oil
2 large handfuls of basil leaves, stalks removed
A generous pinch of sea salt (I prefer Maldon)
Slice each peach in half, remove the stone, and slice each half into six pieces. Reserve six slices.
Place a cast iron griddle pan over a high heat with the coconut oil. When the oil has melted, add all the peach slices bar the six reserved pieces, into the pan. After a few minutes check the underneath of each slice for griddle marks, and flip them so the reverse cooks too.
Meanwhile, set a dry frying pan over the heat, and toast the walnuts for a few minutes until they give off a lovely nutty smell. Keep an eagle eye on them, as they catch easily.
Melt the coconut oil either by gently warming in a saucepan, or zapping for 30 seconds in a microwave.
Tip all the sauce ingredients into either a food processor or NutriBullet goblet and pulse until everything is ground together.
Pile the rocket onto a platter, crumble over the Feta cheese (if using), arrange the peach slices on top, including the reserved six slices to add some extra texture and colour to the salad, and then spoon over the sauce.
If you are looking for further summery coconut inspiration, then check out these photos I took at the Vita Coco Coconut Oil pop up down on London’s South Bank.
Vita Coco paired with street food experts Kerb to collaborate on a menu of the MOST delicious lunchtime snacks using coconut oil.
These Halloumi fries which had been deep fried in coconut oil were one of the most extraordinarily scrumptious things I have eaten in a Very Long Time. Goodness they were amazing.
Whilst I was wandering about the Vita Coco pop-up, stuffing halloumi in my mouth and making little moans of pleasure (kind of how Lettice does when she spots an errant squirrel in Regent’s Park), there was plenty more to see…
I do like a theme taken to the umpteenth degree….hello Wilson and Captain…
I also tried the Coconut Oil version of Bulletproof Coffee – a shot of espresso with coconut oil. I cannot lie: it is an acquired taste, but not unpleasant.
I did not climb the palm tree, but Dame Kelly Holmes and a lot more people did.
Here’s one last look at those delectable coconut oil-fried Halloumi wonders:
This post was written in collaboration with my friends at Vita Coco Coconut Oil: https://www.swearbyit.com/