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Carrie’s Kitchen: Summer recipes inspired by the tropics

Is it just me or has this summer been hotter than blazes? Like way over the average. Or maybe it’s just that we get full weeks where the temperature lingers between 87 and 91 and we don’t get a breather, because even when it does rain, the water is evaporating right back up into the air and sticking around as humidity.

It’s summers like this that confirm that I could never live farther south than Maryland, at least not for the summers. Retirement in Florida? No thank you. A month in the Bahamas? Maybe in January.

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But I can pretend that I am in tropical locations with the food I cook. And this week I have two tropically-inspired foods to share. First, these tropical smoothie pops with a homemade tropical granola, so really, you’re getting two recipes in one with this one. The smoothie pops are made with Greek yogurt thinned out with a little coconut milk and sweetened with some honey. You puree some mango, pineapple and banana together, much like a smoothie, and alternate the sweetened yogurt with the fruit smoothie puree in the pop molds, then add some granola for a crunchy surprise at the end.

Speaking of granola, I love homemade granola, so I look forward to trying this recipe out as well. I’ve never tried making it with coconut oil before (I usually use vegetable oil or canola oil, which I’m not in love with), and I think the coconut oil will add some nice subtle flavor as well as have a better re-hardening quality after the oats are baked. And I agree, add your dried fruits at the end so that they don’t get too dried out and hard, but if you add them when the oats are still warm, the flavored oats and the dried fruit will exchange more of their aromas and flavors.

And then for the other recipe, I thought a Thai mango salad would be very refreshing, and it can be paired nicely with chicken or shrimp. The salad is made of mangoes, bell peppers, and cucumber all sliced in a julienne pattern, then tossed with scallions, green chiles, mint and cilantro leaves, roasted peanuts and a light dressing with a bit of water, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice and a tad bit of vinegar. The dressing you really should adjust to your liking, and then drain off the excess juice and dressing before you serve the salad.

So, whether you love or hate the heat, I hope these dishes help make summer more bearable for you.

Enjoy!

Tropical smoothie pops with granola

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons coconut milk canned

2 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 banana sliced

1 mango, peeled and diced

1/2 cup pineapple, diced

1/3 cup granola (see tropical granola recipe below)

First, make the Greek yogurt layer. In a bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, honey, vanilla extract, and coconut milk until smooth.

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Then make the fruit layer. Peel and chop the mango. Slice the banana. Chop the fresh pineapple. If you use canned pineapple, just drain it. Add the fruit to a blender and use the medium setting to purée. If it is too thick, add a couple tablespoons of coconut milk to thin it out and add some creaminess to the fruit layer.

Take your popsicle molds. Add two teaspoons of fruit purée. Then layer on two teaspoons of Greek yogurt mixture. Repeat, leaving room for your granola under the “fill line”. Before adding the granola, take a skewer to gently swirl the purée and Greek yogurt. You can also use the popsicle stick. Lastly, add the granola, and push it very gently to set it.

Insert the popsicle sticks and freeze for about 6 hours or overnight.

To remove smoothie pops, run each mold under hot water for 20 seconds. Slide it out and enjoy immediately.

Tropical granola

1 1/2 cup old fashioned oats

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup shredded coconut flakes

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons coconut oil melted

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup dry roasted macadamia nuts, chopped

1/3 cup dried pineapple

1/3 cup dried mango

1/3 cup banana chips

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Use a sturdy cutting board to chop up roasted macadamia nuts. Dice up the banana chips and dried fruit. Set aside.

Using a microwave safe bowl, scoop in coconut oil and melt it in the microwave. It should only need 30 seconds. Once melted, whisk in the honey, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. Then set aside for a moment.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, ground flaxseed, dash of brown sugar, sea salt, and shredded coconut. Give it a good mix.

Pour the oil mixture over the oats and stir until coated. Spread the granola mixture onto the parchment in a single layer.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Watch the mixture carefully near the end. Once it is a light brown and toasty, remove from the oven.

Add the dried fruit and macadamia nuts. Mix well. Allow the tropical granola to cool completely.

Thai mango salad

2 green mangoes

½ red bell pepper

½ yellow bell pepper

2 green chilies

1 European cucumber

1 onion

2 scallions

½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves

½ cup toasted peanuts

salt to taste

¼ cup white vinegar

¼ plain water

For salad dressing:

½ cup water

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fish sauce

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon white vinegar

Juice of 1 lemon

Wash and peel the raw mangoes removing the green skin completely. Cut the flesh out from both the flat sides of mangoes and discard the pit. Cut the mango flesh in long thin strips like juliennes.

Cut each bell pepper halves into long thin strips. Slice the green chilies into thin rounds. Cut the cucumber into thin long strips, leaving the peels on.

Chop the spring onions finely and reserve some green parts separately for garnishing at the end. Thinly slice onions and soak them for 30 minutes in a vinegar-water solution taking ¼ cup of each. Then drain the liquid out and set the onions aside.

To make the salad dressing: heat 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan and add the sugar and fish sauce to it. You may need to adjust the amount of sugar based on the sourness of mangoes you are using.

Once the water starts to simmer and sugar is completely dissolved, switch off the flame and let the liquid cool down to room temperature.

Once it is cooled, add soy sauce, vinegar and lemon juice. Give the dressing a good whisk and do a taste test. If you get the perfect hint of sweetness, sourness and saltiness, you are good to go. You can adjust any of these by adding more sugar or vinegar but do not add more fish sauce as it may turn the dressing stinky if added at this stage.

Take a large bowl and add all chopped items to it – mangoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onions, scallions and green chilies. Sprinkle about ¼ teaspoon of salt and mix everything using a spatula.

Drizzle the prepared salad dressing over the mixed fruits and veggies and give a good mix.

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Cover the Thai mango salad with plastic wrap and let it chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. It is a good idea to give the salad few quick stirs in between.

Just before serving, transfer the salad to a salad platter, leaving the liquid behind. Scatter the toasted peanuts and green parts of scallions on top.

Garnish your Thai mango salad with fresh mint and fresh cilantro leaves and serve it on the side with your favorite grilled chicken or shrimp.

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