Coconut Parsnip Custard

Winnie Abramson, ND

By Winnie Abramson, ND

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Deborah Madison is a legend in the cookbook world and she’s one of my favorite food writers. My parents gave me a signed copy of her book The Savory Way back in 1991 and I have cooked from (and treasured it!) ever since. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a beloved possession of mine, as well.

Deborah’s newest tome is called Vegetable Literacy: Cooking and Gardening with Twelve Families from the Edible Plant Kingdom, with over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes. Please trust me when I say it is a stunner! Ten Speed Press sent me a copy about 10 days ago and if I could spend all of my time lately reading this book, I would.

Coconut Parsnip Custard

Vegetable Literacy is beautifully written, and it’s packed with information related not just to cooking vegetables, but to botany and gardening, as well. This is a book you will want to read from start to finish, and not miss a word, because you you will learn so much. It will inspire you in the garden, in the kitchen, and in life.

My only complaint about the book–and I hope you’ll see this as the back-handed compliment that it’s meant to be–is that there aren’t enough photos! The images were captured by Christoper Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, the genius team behind The Canal House. They’re absolutely brilliant.

Vegetable Literacy and I will be spending lots of time together, so I am sure I will talk about it again and again, especially once I get back into my garden (soon! yay!). I bookmarked many recipes the first time I paged through the book, and I was particularly taken with the Parsnip-Cardamom Custard on page 33, so that’s what I decided to make first.

Deborah’s recipe calls for buttermilk, milk, or half-and-half but I had none of these on hand; I used coconut milk instead. I was really pleased with the result, and you will be, too, especially if you choose to or need to avoid dairy. Did you know that you can whip coconut cream just like regular cream? It’s true, and that’s what you see atop the custards here. If you plan to use coconut milk in the recipe for the custard and you want to make the whipped coconut cream, you’ll need two cans of coconut milk (though you won’t use the whole second can). To make whipped coconut cream, refrigerate one of the cans of coconut milk overnight so the cream on top gets very cold; I’ve found it whips better when it’s been chilled. I love cardamom but did not add as much as the recipe calls for; when I make these again, I might use even less (or try cinnamon instead), because my kids aren’t big fans of its flavor.

These are rich, but nourishing, custards. They may be served as a lovely dairy and gluten-free dessert, or as a slightly decadent, but not unhealthy, breakfast.

Coconut Parsnip Custards

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Coconut Parsnip Custard

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Coconut Parsnip Custard
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Recipe for Coconut Parsnip Custard

As Deborah points out in the book, parsnips are sweetest in the winter through the spring, so now's the perfect time to make this recipe. Also, if you read these Chinese Medicine-inspired eating tips for the spring, you'll see that root vegetables and cardamom are recommended this time of year, as is avoiding dairy.
Servings: 6 servings


  • *About 1 1/2 pounds parsnips
  • *Sea salt
  • *One 13 1/2-oz/400-ml can of organic whole coconut milk (I like Native Forest because it's BPA-free), or use 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, milk, or half-and-half as called for in the original recipe
  • *1/2 cup of coconut sugar or maple syrup or loosely packed dark brown sugar as called for in the original recipe
  • *2 whole eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • *3/4 teaspoon ground cardamon I used a bit less
  • *1/8 teaspoon ground cloves or star anise I used ground cinnamon
  • *1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • *1/2 cup coconut cream from the top of a can of coconut milk; again, I like Native Forest coconut milk, or heavy cream as called for in the original recipe


  • 1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  • 2. Peel the parsnips and remove tough cores, if necessary. Chop parsnips and measure 3 cups. Put them in a saucepan to cover, add water to cover, and a few pinches of salt, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the parsnips are soft enough to mash, 15 to 20 minutes. Test with a paring knife to make sure they are soft.
  • 2. Drain the parsnips and then return them to the pot for a few minutes to dry in the residual heat. Transfer parsnips to a blender or food processor, add the coconut milk, coconut sugar, eggs and egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon of the cardamom, cloves, and vanilla. Blend or pulse until very smooth.
  • 3. Divide the mixture evenly into six 1/2-cup ramekins (I used five 8-ounce, wide-mouth, glass canning jars instead). Place the ramekins in a baking pan and pour near boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides. Bake until set and lightly puffed, about 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven , the remove the ramekins from the water bath. The custard can be served immediately, or it can be cooled and chilled before serving.
  • 4. Whip the coconut cream with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom (or omit the extra cardamom and add a pinch or two of organic sugar, as I did) until soft peaks form. Serve each ramekin with a pouf of the cream and a pinch of cardamom.

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