There are many benefits to cooking with coconut oil. It’s full of good fats, nutritious, it can replace dairy in many recipes, it has a pleasant slightly sweet coconut flavour…but, if I’m perfectly honest with you, one of the main reasons I love this new trendy ingredient is because you can melt it in the microwave without it exploding everywhere, as butter has a tendency to do. Who hasn’t felt their heart sink as that sickening ‘pop’ breaks the monotony of the whirring, grinding microwave, knowing the next few minutes will be spent painstakingly wiping a greasy yellow film off the hot plastic, the air heavy with the slightly sickly scent of warm animal fat? Who hasn’t opted for the microwave to melt their butter, out of laziness and not wishing to wash up a pan, only to end up spending those valuable saved minutes scraping away smears of grease? (You can, of course, avoid this problem by covering your bowl or jug with cling film while microwaving, but for some reason I take the chance every time…I think I just like to live on the edge).
Coconut oil, I’ve discovered, doesn’t have the same explosive tendencies as butter when melted in a microwave, and for this reason alone it often makes its way into my cooking. Don’t get me wrong, though; I also love its mild coconut flavour, so at home with south Indian curries or south east Asian dishes, and melting coconut oil (in a pan!) is a ritualistic starting point for these types of recipes in my kitchen. Another major selling point is the fact that it is solid at room temperature and behaves in a similar way to butter or lard, meaning it’s an excellent dairy substitute.
You can use coconut oil in almost any recipe, to replace olive, rapeseed or vegetable oil, but I particularly like using it in dishes featuring coconut, where it works beautifully to accent the flavour. I’ve been experimenting with a tub of delicious JustIngredients virgin coconut oil recently, incorporating it into this wonderful breakfast crumble: the oil has such a light, sweet flavour that it’s quite at home in sweet recipes as well as savoury. Here, rhubarb and strawberries (if you’ve never tried this pairing, you need to start – it’s not only tasty but it looks beautiful) are baked beneath a tender oatmeal crust, soft and gooey in the centre and crunchy on top, scattered with crisp flakes of sweet coconut. It’s essentially a baked porridge, but it tastes like a crumble and is a lusciously decadent breakfast treat. The combination of rhubarb, strawberries and coconut is utterly delicious, and the different textures mean every mouthful is a joy to eat. I especially love the crispy edges, where the coconut oil and coconut flakes have burnished into sweet perfection.
You can make this dairy-free by using almond or coconut milk, and it’s very easy to put together; you could even mix the dry ingredients the night before and simply assemble in the morning, to bake while you’re getting on with other things. I love making this for myself as a brunch treat (leftovers microwave very well the next day) but it’s always a hit when made for friends too; it’s a little unusual but gloriously sweet, crunchy and satisfying; a happy marriage of exotic coconut and more homely British fruits.
Rhubarb, strawberry and coconut breakfast crumble (serves 4):
- 250g rhubarb, cut into 1-inch slices
- 2 tbsp golden caster sugar
- 250g strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 200g rolled or 'jumbo' oats (not instant oats)
- 60g desiccated coconut or flaked coconut
- 60g light brown sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp mixed spice
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp melted coconut oil
- 475ml milk (you can use almond or coconut milk for a dairy-free version)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat the oven to 190C. Butter an 8in x 8in baking dish, or a similar-sized dish. Scatter the rhubarb over the bottom and toss to coat in the caster sugar. Add three quarters of the strawberries and the cornflour and toss together.
Mix together the oats, half the coconut, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, mixed spice and salt. In a large jug, whisk together the melted coconut oil, milk, egg and vanilla extract.
Sprinkle the oat mixture on top of the rhubarb and spread out so it forms an even layer. Pour the milk mixture evenly over the oats, and give the dish a couple of bashes on the worktop to make sure the milk is evenly distributed. Sprinkle over the rest of the strawberries and coconut.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the oat mixture has set and turned crunchy on top. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving.