Whenever I am discussing paleo with someone, I always emphasize that it’s not that different. Sure, there are some things that are left out of a paleo diet, but by and large, everyone wants to feed themselves and their families the healthiest food they can afford, right? Paleo people are no different.
However, there are a few things you’ll find in the paleo kitchen that are a little unusual in most American kitchens. So along with my lists of essential kitchen tools (part one’s here and part two is here), I wanted to talk a little bit about my favorite paleo foods, and why and how I use them.
(Note: These posts will have a lot of affiliate links; it is sometimes hard to find these things in your local stores. Affiliate links just mean I receive a small commission at no cost to you. Someday, these commissions may help to pay my blog hosting fees.)
1. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is so good for you: several studies show that it helps reduce abdominal fat in both men and women, it can improve your brain function, and can help heal wounds, among other things. However, all of that feels like a bonus to me — I just love the taste (and have been known to eat the occasional spoonful; I may be weird, though). I use it on my skin, on my hair — it is great for thick, dry hair — and in my cooking.
In the kitchen, I use it for just about everything: in smoothies, mug muffins, almond flour crackers, paleo fudge, sauteing veggies — it’s my first choice cooking fat.
Depending on whether the oil you get is refined, it will have more or less coconut flavor. Our family generally enjoys the taste, especially when we are eating something Asian-inspired or a dessert, but paleo newbies may prefer the refined oil.
2. Almond flour
Almond flour is awesome. It adds an (obviously) nutty flavor that is a good stand-in for the flavor of wheat. In many ways, it can sub for wheat flour: I have used it as a substitute for bread crumbs, I’ve made crackers and biscuits with it, I’ve thickened the occasional pot of soup with it, too. I’ve also used it to make a substitute for ricotta that I liked far more than the real thing. I try not to over-do it with the baked goods, because it is pretty dense, calorie-wise, but when I do try paleo baking, this is the first thing I reach for.
Gelatin is another one of the paleo foodstuffs that is really good for you: it is believed to help your gut heal, your nails, hair and skin grow, and improve your sleep. It also makes delicious desserts like panna cotta or gelatin gummy snacks. If you aren’t always able to make bone broth, gelatin is a great source of the same amino acids that make bone broth so healthy for you.
I use two types of Great Lakes Gelatin in my kitchen: the one in the green can is great for adding to smoothies, soups or teas. It is tasteless and dissolves really well. The gelatin in the red can is for thickening/gelling; be careful not to confuse the two.
4. Canned coconut milk
Canned coconut milk is a great substitute for the creamy mouthfeel and subtle sweetness of dairy. It is so thick and rich, it is more like whipping cream than milk. In fact, you can make a great substitute for whipped cream with it. I also use coconut milk in soups, smoothies, baked goods, custards (I usually dilute it for these uses), and of course when making Thai or Indian-style curries. Now that winter is coming, I am looking forward to attempting a paleo “White Russian” with coconut milk instead of cream.
Look for a brand that is just coconut extract and water — many brands have guar gum added to them — especially if you have a sensitive stomach.
If you’ve ever made clarified butter, ghee should be pretty familiar. It is similar in preparation: butter is cooked to separate out the milk solids, and then it is cooked a bit more, which gives it a delicious, toasted flavor. Some traditional Indian cooks add spices to the ghee as well, which just adds a depth of flavor that is extraordinary.
Despite the fact that I’m lactose intolerant, I have not had any problem with ghee: getting rid of those milk solids eliminates the lactose. Your mileage may vary of course, but it is worth a try.
I use ghee anywhere I would use butter: I use it to grease muffin tins, to coat roasted veggies, on pancakes, on steaks … the possibilities are infinite. Because it is rather more expensive than butter, l usually save it to use where the flavor will really shine.
So there you have it. While Part II of this list is coming soon, drop a line in the comments if you have additions. I’d love to know what your favorite paleo foods are!