With the announcement of Starbucks adding coconut milk as a new coffee sweetener to their menu, the creamy dairy-free liquid has caused quite a stir among roasters everywhere. However, this little gem has been a staple in many island and southern Asian cuisines from Thailand to India to the Caribbean and Pacific for many years. While it still remains a topic of debate due to its high saturated fat content, in moderation its a unique ingredient to use in your weeknight culinary “travels.” Contrary to what you might think, when prepared correctly, it leaves little to no coconut flavor and produces a dairy-less dish. Here are a couple of my suggestions for coconut milk.
Breakfast Instead of warmed milk or water, use coconut milk in your Oatmeal. Just add 1 part oats to 2 parts liquid. I would use half coconut milk and half water to keep oatmeal creamy but not sticky. Combine in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add in a pinch of salt and any other flavors (like cinnamon, honey, maple syrup, etc.) you might like. Cook, stirring constantly, until desired texture, about 15 minutes. Add in dried fruits, nuts, or other toppings (ahem, chocolate chips for the kiddies perhaps?) and serve!
Lunch/Dinner Try these southeast Asian dishes for a take-out fake-out. Coconut Rice and Coconut Soaked Lentils are two simple ways to tempt your tastebuds and expand your culinary skills.
Coconut Soaked Lentils This is one of my favorite recipes that I stole from my grandmother after vacationing to her home for a visit. It’s originally from a New York Times recipe but since my husband’s list of no-go foods to short, and curry is on it, I usually skip the tarka and stick with just the lentils. They re fantastic with rice or poached and pulled chicken breast.
1 cup dried brown lentils
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock (or water to make a vegetarian dish)
Combine the lentils and liquid in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat so the mixture simmers and partially cover. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until lentils are cooked through. Add more stock if necessary to keep the mixture a bit “soupy.”
This is where my coconut milk inspiration stemmed from this week. A roasted broccolini and bass over coconut rice recipe from my favorite Real Simple magazine. It really is such an easy swap for water!
1 cup long grain white rice
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken stock (again, water works too!)
Combine liquids and a pinch of salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Serve with roasted vegetables and crushed red pepper flakes or chilies.
Dessert Don’t be fooled, using coconut milk in your baking will not leave you with coconut flavored cupcakes…but it will, however, give you a great alternative to dairy. It’s a similar substitution for apple sauce instead of oil (one of my favorite little tricks!). Just replace milk with the coconut milk in cakes, cookies, or even try it in rice pudding! The possibilities are endless!
Although many have their doubts about this traditional tropical ingredient, I believe that anything should be tried within moderation. I mean, you wouldn’t have cake every night but who can resist one (or two!) pieces at a birthday party! It’s always fun to explore with new flavors and textures and it’s never bad to have a convenient substitute in your back pocket as a “just in case.” The best part is, this pantry friendly can has a great shelf life so you can keep one a hand for last minute weeknight meals!
Stephanie a.k.a. The Foodetarian