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Hunger Management

Make coconut rice with a small dose of coconut oil

So coconut oil is bad for you once again. But eat for taste and in moderation and you will be fine

If you are looking to eat healthily, it is a given that you will often be confused.

One day, butter is bad. The next, Time magazine is telling you to Eat Butter on its cover, trumpeting a story about why fat is not the enemy.

Ah, all those years of slathering toast with supposedly healthier (now questionable) margarine. What a waste of time, eh?

For years, people have been ditching egg yolks for scrambled egg whites or egg white omelettes. Now, yolks are staging a bit of a comeback.

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In the last few years, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil has become the new miracle ingredient. People do oil-pulling with it, essentially an ayurvedic practice of swishing coconut oil in the mouth for 20 minutes to draw out toxins, resulting in better oral and general health.

Some cook with the stuff, others down spoonfuls of it to stave off dementia and, counter-intuitively, to lose weight. The weight loss part has worked for a few people I know.

Recently, however, the American Heart Association came out with a report that says coconut oil is bad news, that the saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol - the bad kind - and it is no better than butter or beef fat.

Oops, butter is back in the bad books again, dragging coconut oil down with it.

That report triggered a storm of listicles with titles such as: Coconut oil is out. These are the oils you should be using.

What is a person to do? The only sensible solution is to go on taste.

Yes, certain foods can be good for health, but if you let taste, rather than fads, guide you and eat in moderation (much as I despise that word and the concept), things will work out fine.

I never found a brand of margarine that tasted good to me, so I never touched the stuff. My heart is thanking me for that, no doubt.

So in defiance of the association, I'm offering a recipe for coconut fried rice.

My mother was the one who experimented with it and told me how rice cooked with coconut oil tasted remarkably like nasi lemak, without having to squeeze coconut cream or milk by hand.

I tried it and loved it. The rice also fits in with the way I like to cook, which is to say I am unwilling to spend too much time in the kitchen, but at the same time, want flavourful food.

I add lemongrass and pandan leaves to the rice pot and the resulting rice smells divine.

Of course, I could have stopped there and used the rice as an accompaniment to other dishes, but I decided to turn it into a one-dish meal using another cooking "cheat".

Generally, I am against the idea of cheating when cooking because if I am going to bother to throw something together, it makes no sense to cheat.

However, this trick is better than doing it the traditional way.

I'm talking about crisp ikan bilis. The usual way would be to deep-fry the little fish, which messes up the kitchen and is tedious.

A long time ago, a friend told me about microwaving them instead. It works a treat and requires not one drop of oil. The result is crisp and not greasy - big plus points for me.

Petai or stink beans go into the fried rice, too, because I love their pungent smell. If you do not, chopped scallions and coriander leaves make good substitutes.

Life is too short to look at food as good or bad. Everything hinges on how much we eat and how often.

Of course, at some point, there will be a study saying that microwaving food is terrible for the health or that petai is evil. I will just roll my eyes and carry on.

The only thing that might not be good, even in moderation, is white sugar. Nobody has anything good to say about it. But I live in hope.

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun


COCONUT FRIED RICE

INGREDIENTS

Long grain rice

Water

4 Tbs cold-pressed virgin coconut oil, divided

1/2 tsp salt

3 stalks lemongrass

4 to 5 pandan leaves

100g dried anchovies

200g petai

1 small onion

Salt to taste

2 to 3 large red chillies

Sliced cucumber (for serving)

Halved cherry tomatoes (for serving)

METHOD

1. The night before making the fried rice, measure two cups of uncooked rice into the pot of a rice cooker, using the plastic cup that came with the cooker. Wash the rice under running water until the water runs clear. Discard the water. Pour fresh water to reach the two-cup mark in the cooker.

2. Stir 3 Tbs of the coconut oil and the salt into the rice and water.

3. Trim off and discard the top part of the lemongrass, leaving only the bulbous ends. Bruise the lemongrass with a meat mallet and place in the rice pot. Wash the pandan leaves, tear in half lengthwise, knot them and add to the rice pot. Cook the rice. When it is done, let it cool for about 15 minutes, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

4. Before cooking the fried rice, rinse the dried anchovies under running water and leave to drain in a colander for 45 minutes.

5. Remove the rice from the refrigerator. Discard the pandan leaves and lemongrass. Loosen the rice grains with a fork.

6. Rinse the petai under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Split the beans in half, discarding any that have brown spots or worm tunnels (above). Chop the onion as coarsely or finely as you like. Slice the red chillies on the diagonal. Slice the cucumber and halve the cherry tomatoes.

7. Line a plate with two sheets of kitchen paper towels. Wrap a quarter of the anchovies in another sheet of paper towel to dry it out further. Spread the fish in one layer on the plate (above). Microwave on high for 21/2 to three minutes. The cooking time will depend on how dry the fish are and how big they are. Check after two minutes and continue until the fish are crisp. When the first batch is done, place the fish on another paper towel-lined plate. Repeat for the rest of the anchovies, cooking them in three more batches.

8. Heat the remaining 1 Tbs coconut oil in a large pan or wok set over medium heat. When the surface of the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and stir-fry until translucent. Add the petai and stir-fry for two minutes. Tip the rice into the pan and mix it with the onions and petai. After three to four minutes, add the anchovies. Add salt to taste, if needed. Turn off the heat. Scatter the sliced red chillies over the rice and mix them in well.

9. Spoon the rice onto plates, add sliced cucumber and tomatoes and serve immediately.

Serves four

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 02, 2017, with the headline 'Coconut oil in small doses'. Print Edition | Subscribe