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Guava Paste And Tamarind? What To Do With Weird Food Gifts

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This is an installment of NPR's ongoing Cook Your Cupboard, a food series about improvising with what you have on hand. Have a food that has you stumped? Submit a photo and we'll ask chefs about our favorites.

Harrison Gowdy of Dayton, Ohio, has developed a reputation among friends and family of liking everything and wasting nothing.

"Sometimes I'll even find things like Swiss chard dropped off on my doorstep," she says. And sometimes she receives foods that stump her.

To Cook Your Cupboard she submitted a photo of various Indian spices, a gift from her traveling sister; some guava paste from a friend in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and coconut oil.

She discussed these things on Morning Edition with NPR's David Greene and with self-described home cook Mollie Katzen, author of the forthcoming cookbook The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation. Katzen, who specializes in vegetarian cooking, had a few suggestions:

Guava Paste:

It's a combination of guava pulp and often sugar and pectin. A popular item in Caribbean and Spanish cuisine, "its favorite food companion is cheese," says Katzen — such as manchego.

What To Do With It:

Take slices of Guava paste and equal parts cheese and wrap in tortilla, phyllo or empanada dough.

Place it between layers of vanilla cake batter and bake.

"Guava plus cheese or guava plus cake: ticket to popularity," says Katzen. "It's one of those easy things that makes you very impressive."

Spices From India:

Katzen suggests grinding them all up together in a coffee grinder devoted specifically to spices.

What To Do With Them

"Grind them up and call it curry powder," says Katzen.

Or put the spices in a tea ball — and infuse basmati rice with the spices as it cooks.

Coconut Oil:

It's solid at room temperature, but it's not a trans fat, says Katzen. It also has a high smoke point, which basically means it's good for frying if you want your food really crisp.

What To Do With It

Use it as an oil for making popcorn. ("It imparts a very subtle coconut flavor," Katzen says.

Fry the homemade curry powder in the coconut oil and fry battered vegetables in it.

Bonus Beauty Tip:

Katzen says that if you have tamarind pulp with seeds, don't trash them — they can be used for facials. Follow that up with some coconut oil, which, she says, is a great moisturizer for skin and hair.

If you have culinary conundrums, join the Cook Your Cupboard project! Go to and show us a photo. You'll get guidance from fellow home cooks, and you might even be chosen to come on the air with a chef.

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