Celebrate coconut’s versatility with festive recipes from around the globe, from buttery cookies to elegant cocktails.
I am blessed to come from a family with international origins. The varied traditions that come with these roots add spice to life — both figuratively and literally. At no time is this more apparent than during the holidays.
We’ve melded Christmas with other winter holiday traditions in the most delectable ways. On the winter solstice, in honor of my mother’s Persian heritage, we munch on dried fruits and nuts for Shabeh Yalda, an ancient Zoroastrian celebration marking the longest night of the season. On Christmas Eve, in homage to my husband’s forebears, we make an Italian seven-fish feast and Lithuanian Poppy Seed Cake. Our tribute to Irish Christmas cake comes in the form of Trinidad Black Cake — a rich fruit cake made in my father’s native island.
Of course, as an avowed coconut lover, I’ve adapted other old favorites over the years to include my beloved fruit — like the coconut filling I now make for our Great Aunt Frances’s kiffles. Aunt Frances learned to make these small butter cookies, traditionally filled with fruit jelly or walnuts, from her Hungarian mother-in-law in the 1940s. My husband’s family has collectively enjoyed Aunt Frances’s kiffles for more than six decades. Sometimes I even add coconut cream to the kiffle dough!
My version of Mexican Wedding Cookies (also called Russian Tea Cakes) is another world tradition reimagined with a coconut twist. These small, buttery cookies are sometimes called “snowballs” because they are round and dusted liberally with confectioner’s sugar. Usually made with ground walnuts alone, I’ve created a recipe that includes dried toasted coconut as well. I warn you — if you make this recipe (included below), you might want to double it. These delectably addictive sweets get gobbled up fast.
Yet another beloved Christmas must-have is sorrel — a punch made from dried roselle hibiscus flowers, sugar, cinnamon, and other warm spices. This beverage is common throughout the Caribbean and folks will either enjoy it plain or mixed with rum or gin. My Coconut-Hibiscus Vodka Martini (recipe below) is my twist on the tradition. Elegant in its presentation, this cocktail is perfect for any holiday party.
As you consider your menu this holiday season, I hope you’ll try some of the amazing recipes for festive foods made with coconut — many of which live in the pages of my book. Check out Bibingka, a beautiful little cake baked in banana leaf cups and a must-have in the Philippines on Christmas Eve. Or Coquito — the Puerto Rican version of eggnog that features coconut milk and coconut cream (eggs are optional and it’s one of my favorite holiday drinks). Or, try my Coconut Cinnamon Rolls, which I make for Christmas morning for the family to enjoy while we open gifts.
Whatever your traditions may be, I hope you eat and drink well! And here’s to a coconutty 2017!
Mexican Wedding Cookies with Coconut
This recipe is a riff on the Mexican wedding cookies called polavarones, which feature ground walnuts and a liberal dusting of confectioners’ sugar (polvo is Spanish for “powdered”). In this version of the Christmastime favorite, I’ve reduced the standard measure of nuts and replaced some of it with dried coconut.
MAKES ABOUT 48 COOKIES
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for garnish
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon coconut extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup toasted grated coconut
- Combine the butter and sugar in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Using a handheld or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes.
- Add the vanilla and coconut extract and beat well.
- Whisk together the flour and salt in another large bowl. Add to the butter mixture and mix at medium speed until totally combined.
- Combine the walnuts and coconut in a food processor and process until the mixture is the texture of coarse sand. Add these to the butter mixture and mix until they are just thoroughly combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. If you are using a tablespoon, gently roll the dough into a ball, but do not overhandle or you will melt the butter in the dough.
- Bake for 14 to 15 minutes, or until just golden brown on top. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes.
- Spoon some confectioners’ sugar into a small handheld sieve and shake the sugar over the cookies until they are completely coated.
Coconut-Hibiscus Vodka Martini
Hibiscus drinks and cocktails are quite popular in Central America and much of the Caribbean. They are made by steeping dried roselle (hibiscus) flowers in water with sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and clove to make a tisane. The mild and naturally sweet coconut and the sour and bright hibiscus tisane juxtapose beautifully. You can find dried hibiscus flowers in Caribbean and Middle Eastern markets.
MAKES 2 MARTINIS
- 2 cups dried hibiscus flowers, (see note)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cinnamon stick
- 1 whole clove
- 3 cups water
- ¼ cup coconut sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 ounces coconut vodka, such as Pearl brand, plus extra for glass rims
- 1 ounce Rose’s lime juice
- 4 ice cubes
- To make the hibiscus tisane, combine the hibiscus, granulated sugar, cinnamon stick, clove, and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover the pan. Allow to steep for 1 hour, then strain and chill. The hibiscus tisane will be more than you need for two martinis, but it’s a refreshing drink on its own. It can be stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- To make the martini, place the coconut sugar in a shallow bowl or saucer. Wet a folded, clean paper towel with some of the coconut vodka and wipe around the rims of two large martini glasses. Hold the glasses by the stem and tip the rims into the sugar, twirling to coat evenly. Place the cinnamon sticks in the glasses.
- Combine the coconut vodka, lime juice, ½ cup hibiscus tisane, and the ice cubes into a cocktail shaker. Shake until the outside of the shaker is cold. Strain the martini into the glasses.
You could also use 4 bags pure hibiscus tea (remove tea from bags and prepare as for the tisane above) or 1½ teaspoons ground hibiscus flowers. If using the ground hibiscus, simmer in 1½ cups water until the sugar is dissolved, 5 to 6 minutes.