What To Make With Coconut Milk
Savory to sweet, this versatile ingredient will brighten any tired recipe.user rating
In India, the coconut palm is referred to as kalpa vriksha, which translates to “the tree that provides all.” Most Westerners have yet to embrace this inexpensive and surprisingly nutritious gourmet ingredient, perfect for reviving tired saute recipes or adding a tropical, sunny twist to baked goods, cookies and cold beverages.
Long before Thai and Indian cooking were recognized as the spectacular cuisines that they are, coconut milk could hardly be found anywhere outside major cosmopolitan areas. Now you can find canned coconut milk in any specialty grocery store or supermarket; also on offer at many health food stores are vacuum-packed, powdered or refrigerated versions. My first experience of it was in a bowl of tom ka gai soup—a Thai classic that is a little miracle of flavors. Creamy, yet light, with the summery taste of lime, lemon grass, fresh basil and cilantro, it was love at first bite.
Benefits of Coconut Milk
Although 8 ounces of canned coconut milk has about 450 calories, it delivers 41 percent of the RDA for iron without the sodium and everything else that ends up in cow’s milk. Think of it as a distant cousin of evaporated milk, ideal for cooking and baking. In refrigerated form, seated next to the soy and almond milk, this tropical liquid has only 50 calories per cup and plenty of omega 3s and other goodies for energy, a clear mind and healthy skin.
An excellent source of protein and fiber, coconut milk has long been used in traditional Eastern medicine to promote healthy brain function and support the immune system. Rich in vitamins, manganese and iron, new research has shown coconut to improve digestion and absorption of other nutrients and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Its fat content is high, but independent studies have found that the saturated fats may be of a healthier variety that’s easily metabolized.
How to Use Coconut Milk
Smoothies: Use coconut milk as the base for a tasty, healthier take on a milkshake. Combine with yogurt and frozen pineapple for a piña colada–style refresher.
Sauces: Thicken and smooth a sauce when sauteing or braising by adding coconut milk toward the end of cooking. Turn leftover chicken into a new meal by serving with a sauce made from broth and coconut milk. Add curry paste or powder, a squeeze of lime and some fresh basil for direct passage to Bangkok.
Coconut milk is also a great substitute for some egg or milk when batter-frying or breading fish or chicken. Substitute half a cup of the milk for each egg omitted. Love rice? Spring for the good stuff and cook it with a combo of coconut milk and chicken broth instead of water. Toss in some golden raisins, cashews and cardamom to complete the exotic meal.
Coconut milk can add subtle complexity to sweet dishes. For recipes that call for a whipped cream topping, replace the cream with vanilla or plain Greek yogurt blended with coconut milk and just a bit of sugar or honey. Top a slice of toasted pound cake with the whipped substitute, toss in mandarin oranges and raspberries and sprinkle with nutmeg for a low-cost, tropical dessert. Substitute coconut milk for some of the liquid in your next cake or bread recipe. Combined with a spoonful of orange juice concentrate or half a cup of pineapple juice, it brightens the flavor and smoothes the texture. You can replace one (and only one) of the eggs in a cookie recipe with half a cup of coconut milk without changing the chemistry too much.
So there you have it. Coconut milk is a versatile, inexpensive, and elegant addition to perk up a dish or add a little je ne sais pas to impress guests. It adds a decadent creaminess as well as plenty of healthful nutrients. Make coconut milk a pantry staple and you’ll be delighted by what you’ll come up with. —Marcia Barager of the Dalai Planet