Continuing my research into cooking with coconut oil, I decided to try a stir-fry where a coconut flavor would be appreciated. A Thai dish with shrimp and noodles sounded perfect.
Before we get to the recipe, let’s talk about why some folks say coconut oil is “healthy” even though it contains more than 90% saturated fat. First a disclaimer: I’m not a chemist, I don’t play one on TV and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn last night. But I’m going to try and summarize something I read in The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife by using a subway analogy. Stay with me here, I think it will help you understand why coconut oil might actually be good for you.
Consider a single subway car. Assume it has an aisle down the middle and rows consisting of pairs of seats on each side of the aisle for the whole length of the car. No one is standing. If each seat is filled, that’s like a saturated fat. If two riders get off the car leaving one pair of seats empty, that’s like a monounsaturated fat. If at least four riders get off the car and leave at least two pairs of seats empty, that’s like a polyunsaturated fat.
Okay, so what does this have to do with coconut oil? Well, all fatty acids (subway trains) are chains of carbon atoms (pairs of seats on subway car) that each have a maximum of two hydrogen atoms attached to them (riders). The length of the carbon chain (number of subway cars strung together to make the train) determines whether you have a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA), a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA) or a long-chain fatty acid (LCFA). One subway car could represent an SCFA, two cars could represent an MCFA and three cars or more could represent an LCFA.
According to The Coconut Oil Miracle, the chain length of a fat, not its level of saturation, determines its “goodness” or “badness:”
“Coconut oil, being composed primarily of medium- and short-chain fatty acids, has a totally different effect on the body from that of the typical long-chain fatty acids (both saturated and unsaturated) found abundantly in meat and vegetable oils. Medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil are broken down and used predominantly for energy production and thus seldom end up as body fat or as deposits in arteries or anywhere else. They produce energy, not fat. Medium-chain fatty acids do not have a negative effect on blood cholesterol and help protect against heart disease.”
I hope this explains why the recipe for Thai Shrimp and Noodles below, even though it is high in saturated fat, just might fit into a healthy diet.
You can now breathe a sigh of relief – the chemistry lesson is over. Now about that recipe … I must say I LOVE the way coconut oil behaves in a stir-fry. You can use high heat and the oil will not burn at all. This stir-fry dish is sweet, pungent and slightly salty. It tasted saltier on the second day, so if you’re planning on having leftovers, I’d recommend using less fish sauce. A few other notes:
- Feel free to use a medium green bell pepper instead of the Anaheim/poblano combination. I had some peppers from the garden to use up.
- If you aren’t familiar with Thai food, you should be able to find the green curry paste and fish sauce in the Asian section of your supermarket.
- If you can’t find brown rice noodles, you can use brown rice vermicelli or any other thin spaghetti noodles.
- I highly recommend wild-caught shrimp if you can find it where you live.
- I served this with some ripe cantaloupe and it was the perfect touch.
I’d love to hear what you think about coconut oil, especially if you are a dietician or nutritionist.
Thai Shrimp and Noodles
Adapted from The Coconut Oil Miracle by Bruce Fife
4 ounces brown rice noodles (maifun)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and diced
2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 teaspoon green curry paste
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails removed)
1/4 cup fish sauce
Soak noodles in hot (not boiling) water until they are pliable, at least 10 minutes.
In the meantime, heat coconut oil in a wok or large skillet. Sauté onion and peppers for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add broccoli and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so. Add curry paste and shrimp. Stir-fry until shrimp is almost opaque. Drain noodles and add to pan. Heat for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in fish sauce. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings
Per serving: 433 calories, 17g fat (14g sat), 171mg cholesterol, 1,603mg sodium, 38g carb, 7g fiber, 5g sugar, 32g protein
Nutritional Analysis: The Sodium in this recipe is coming from the fish sauce, curry paste, shrimp and broccoli (believe it or not). If you are watching your Sodium intake, you may want to reduce the quantities of these ingredients, especially the fish sauce which contributes about 84% of the Sodium in this recipe. If you are watching your Cholesterol, you may want to reduce the amount of shrimp you use. See above for a discussion about the Saturated Fat in this recipe.