By SONYA SANFORD
(The Nosher via JTA) — I first tried raw vegan coconut cream pie years ago at Café Gratitude, one of the popular plant-based restaurants in Los Angeles. Café Gratitude is a quintessential healthy L.A. eatery. The menu features dishes with titles like “I am bountiful” and “I am cosmic” (which you are semi-forced to say out loud as written). Those dishes might include heirloom grains, fermented vegetables, turmeric or seaweed. The servers often have ethereally glowing skin and offer you an inspirational “word of the day” to think about when they take your order.
All new-agey West Coast things aside, the food is good and I have a soft spot for the place, especially when it comes to their dessert menu.
When Passover comes around, I look for desserts that could be enjoyed beyond the eight days of the holiday and do not involve matzah meal of any kind. We live in a golden era of grain-free dessert innovations, and in the past few years this wealth of creativity has greatly enhanced the offerings at my Passover table, including this riff on Café Gratitude’s vegan coconut cream pie. I’ve added strawberries for their brightness, both in color and taste, which complements the rich creaminess of the coconut.
This recipe is also easy to modify with your own favorite flavorings or ingredients. You could swap strawberries for another berry or a mix of berries. You could add a few tablespoons of cocoa powder to the filling and chocolate shavings to the garnish. Or you could add caramel and chopped nuts to the mix. Coconut is an easy base to enhance.
In all fairness, this dessert is a departure from the classic coconut cream pie you may be familiar with, and if you are a dessert traditionalist and like pies sugary and plenty sweet (not that there’s anything wrong with that), this may not be for you. What this does offer is a creamy, smooth, coconut-rich treat without grains, refined sugars, dairy or any baking required. It also offers a way to end a rich seder meal on a lighter note, and it sneakily satisfies both a wide range of potential dietary concerns as well as the laws of kashrut for Passover. And maybe, after a few bites, you might just feel slightly more bountiful and cosmic.
For the crust:
coconut oil spray (or other cooking spray)
1 cup raw unsalted pecans
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup good quality dates, such as Medjool of Khadrawy (pitted and soaked in water for 10 minutes and drained)
big pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked in water for 6-12 hours
3/4 cup sliced strawberries, fresh or thawed if frozen
1/2 cup coconut cream, refrigerated overnight (or use a can of refrigerated whole fat coconut milk and skim off the top layer of cream that solidifies)
1/4 cup coconut milk (or the remaining liquid from the can)
3 tablespoons light agave nectar, or your preferred sweetener
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 a lemon, about 2 tablespoons
pinch of salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
For the coconut whipped cream:
1 cup coconut cream, refrigerated overnight (or use a can of refrigerated whole fat coconut milk and skim off the top layer of cream that solidifies)
1 tablespoon agave syrup, or your favorite sweetener (sugar or maple syrup work fine)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the garnish:
sliced fresh strawberries
1. To make the crust: Spray a 9-inch springform pan or a pie pan with oil. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
2. In a food processor, pulse the pecans, coconut, soaked dates and a pinch of salt together until the nuts are finely ground and the mixture forms a paste-like consistency and sticks together when pressed between your fingers. Press the raw crust into the pan in an even layer. Place the crust in the freezer to set while you make the filling
3. To make the filling: Soak 1 cup of raw cashews for 6 hours or overnight. If you forget to soak your cashews ahead of time, you can cover them with boiling water and let them sit for 1 hour before using.
4. Combine the soaked cashews, fresh sliced strawberries, coconut cream, coconut milk, agave, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt in a high-powered blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and creamy.
5. Add the melted coconut oil and blend until incorporated. Add in the shredded coconut and pulse a few times until just mixed in; you still want that coconut texture.
6. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the pie back in the freezer and let it set for 2 hours or until very firm. Transfer to the refrigerator and store there until ready to garnish and serve. Can be made up to one day prior to serving.
7. Just before serving, make the coconut whipped cream. Make sure the coconut cream is very cold, and then combine all of the ingredients together and whip using an electric hand mixer or immersion blender until thick and whipped topping-like. If you find your coconut cream is too stiff, you can add a few tablespoons of liquid from the can to the cream. If it’s not whipping up and is too loose, you can place the mixture in the freezer in the mixing bowl for 15-30 minutes and try again. There are also many dairy-free whipped creams and toppings available to use if you prefer to skip this step.
8. Top the pie with the coconut whipped cream. Garnish with strawberries and shredded coconut and serve. Makes 6-8 servings.
(Sonya Sanford is a chef, food stylist, and writer based out of Los Angeles.)
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.