Flip Winter the Bird with 11 Exotic Coconut Dishes

Tres Leches Cake recipe and photo from CHOW

At this point in winter, most of the country has taken a few snow-and-ice beatings, and now is the time we're all silently cursing the coworkers who had the foresight and frequent flyer miles to book a tropical vacation. (Hope the airline loses your bag, jerks!) If you're the one taking a "staycation" to do "a few projects around the house" like binge-watching Girls in a fleece onesie, find a bit of sunshine and solace in a few great coconut dishes: If you can't take an exotic vacation, at least you can taste one.

1. Ayam Jeruk (Grilled Chicken and Toasted Coconut Salad)

Recipe from The Bitten Word and photo from Saveur

The char of grilled chicken, the garlicky bite of sambal, crispy coconut—this Balinese dish is a mind-blower ... if you can source all of the ingredients without a round-trip ticket to Denpasar. The guys at the Bitten Word have done a masterful job substituting and opting out of hard-to-find ingredients in the original Saveur recipe.

2. Coquito (Puerto Rican Coconut Eggnog)

Image and recipe from Always Order Dessert

This decadent beverage conjures the warmth and cheer of the holidays, only instead of fending off surly last-minute shoppers and your crazy Aunt Edna, you're strolling the sun-parched streets of Old San Juan.

3. Coconut Farro Porridge with Mango

Photo and recipe from CHOW

If the snowplow guy chose your car to pile the Great Wall of Snow next to and you've got a long morning of shoveling ahead, fuel up with a bowl of this fortifying porridge. The touch of tropical fruits will make you less cranky.

4. Coconut Oil Coffee

Recipe from Wellness Mama and photo from Squirrelly Minds

We'll spare you the Bulletproof butter-in-your-coffee proselytizing. Pour your cup of hot, brewed coffee into a blender, drop 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in, hit the "go" button, and let it rip until the concoction is frothy and emulsified. (You can also add a flavoring like cinnamon or vanilla.) It's rich and creamy like you've added the best, high-fat cream, with a touch of coconut-y sweetness.

5. Coconut Shrimp with Tamarind Vinaigrette

Recipe from Food & Wine and photo from Franco Lania

OK, so maybe it's not so "exotic" if you can find coconut shrimp on the menu at Outback and Red Lobster. But we bet they don't serve it with a punchy tamarind vinaigrette! Ignore the directions to plate and serve this for eight. Two shrimp per? Psshhht. Make it a meal for two, because you can polish off eight shrimp, easy.

6. Spicy Thai Coconut Quinoa

Photo and recipe from CHOW

The long, cold nights have you power-eating bacon cheeseburgers and chicken pot pies and you've got a nice, thick layer of fat under your "winter coat." Guess what? You're not a bear. And this hearty, spicy tofu and veggie bowl won't make you feel like you're on the twigs and bark diet.

7. Tom Kha Kai (Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Galangal)

Recipe from CHOW and photo from Gourmet Grub

This invigorating, bright soup kicks your regular chicken soup's weak ass. It's a Thai comfort food classic—the stuff your granny would make for you when you've got the office flu, if your office had a thatch roof and a view of Nai Harn Beach.

8. Coconut Rice with Black Beans and Fried Plantains

Recipe from CHOW and photo from Herbivoracious

President Obama recently lifted some of the restrictions on travel to Cuba, but if you're not in the narrow category of folks who are officially authorized for travel there yet, take your taste buds to the island with this inspired Cuban side dish. Serve it with the best fried chicken in town.

9. Coconut Crème Brûlée

Photo and recipe from Table for Two

No judgment if this paradise-in-a-ramekin recipe, which technically serves 4, actually only ends up serving one.

10. Toasted Coconut Pound Cake

Recipe and photo from Little Bits Of

Try this new baking game: For every time you lose a single glove, wipe out on ice, or dig out your car this winter, pound a slice of this cake. Chase it with Coquito (see item number two above).

11. Chocolate-Drizzled Coconut Macaroons

Photo and recipe from CHOW

Cabin fever? Whip up a batch of these macaroons. The scent of toasting coconut will make your home smell like someplace sunny and breezy, and far, far away from your wool socks and down coat.

Colleen Rush is a food and travel writer who eats, drinks, cooks, and writes mostly in New Orleans, but also ... everywhere else. She is the author of "The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining" (Broadway Books, 2006), and coauthor of "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons" (Running Press, 2009) and the upcoming "Low & Slow 2: The Art of Barbecue, Smoke Roasting, and Basic Curing" (Running Press, 2015). Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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