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March 3, 2011

REMIX: Coconut milk (recipes, stories and sources in The Perfect Pantry)

Red curry tofu

My first encounter with real coconut milk involved neither can nor can opener.

Though my husband Ted, Cousin Martin and I have traveled to many places where coconut milk features in the local food, it wasn't until we stayed at Kathleen's house, in the Afro-Caribbean community of Arima, Trinidad, that I learned how to make, and cook with, coconut milk. Kathleen made everything from scratch in her tiny kitchen, including smashing coconuts with a hammer on the ground outside the front door, and pressing the meat to extract the milk.

Hairy brown coconuts don't grow on trees here in Rhode Island, but many markets do sell them. Still, making coconut milk is a bit labor-intensive, so I keep a few cans in the pantry.

Don't tell Kathleen.

Coconut milk

I've featured coconut milk five times in The Perfect Pantry, with more than a dozen recipes from Brazil, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Puerto Rico and California.

Start with the story of ICE COLD NUTS, and an explanation of the difference between coconut water (the liquid inside the coconut), coconut milk (made by pressing the coconut solids), and coconut cream (another name for coconut milk, or for the coconut milk solids that coagulate in the can, or for coconut meat steeped in milk). Good grief. Even the explanation is confusing!

Then, because a remix is all about music, take a musical interlude with Kermit the Frog. (Please. Go. Sing. Shake your head and do a giggly dance.) Kermit knows what he's talking about. I'm amazed at how often lime and coconut pair up in my curry recipes. Instead of curdling the milk, the acid cuts the richness to achieve perfect balance.

Chicken satay, marinated in coconut milk.

My friend Peter, chef-owner of a pousada in Brazil, taught us how to turn coconut milk into ice cream with the help of some supersized avocados. I shared a recipe for chicken satay that brought back memories of smoky roadside restaurants in Malaysia.

Red curry beef

I love to combine coconut milk with Thai red or green curry paste, and a bit of lime and brown sugar, for a quick sauce for fish, meat, or tofu curries:

More versatile than you'd imagine, coconut milk brings non-dairy creaminess to soups, stews, marinades, and rice:

Coconut milk even makes desserts:

You'll find coconut milk in 13- or 14-ounce cans in the Latino, Caribbean or Asian aisles of most supermarkets as well as ethnic markets; Asian grocery stores often stock 5.5-ounce cans, which are great for smaller dishes. Store unopened cans in the cupboard indefinitely; leftover coconut milk should go into an airtight container in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to two days. If it separates, give it a vigorous stir and it will be fine.

Use the search box on the right (up near the top of this page) to find more recipes and fun facts about coconut milk in The Perfect Pantry. 

What do you make with coconut milk?

Comments

I have a coconut panna cotta on my to try list that calls for coconut milk - tks for the reminder, Lydia! :D

Love the remix! I freeze leftover coconut milk and it's fine -- sometimes needs a little swirl with the immersible blender -- but many things do, after freezing.

Yum yum coconut milk! I like to make vegan massaman curry with it, and coconut milk ice cream is delicious.

I make all kinds of recipes with coconut milk to make them naturally dairy free (they are already gluten free). Our favorites are chicken (or vegan) pot pie, green smoothies, and all kinds of ice cream, just to name a few. All your coconut milk recipes look and sound fantastic, Lydia! I'll be checking them out--thanks. :-)

Shirley

Patricia, that sounds divine. I've been wanting to try panna cotta with Greek yogurt, but coconut milk would be a great nondairy alternative.

Mary, I've never tried to freeze coconut milk, so thanks for adding to our knowledge about that.

Deena, your curry sounds yummy.

Shirley, I've never heard of pot pie made with coconut milk. What a great idea! Some of the recipes I've posted here can be made vegan with simple substitutions, so I hope you find some recipes that work for you.

I've had cans of coconut milk in the cabinet for ages, I really need to get over being intimidated by it. Every recipe I see that uses it looks so delicious, I'm sure I'd love it.

I love coconut milk and don't think I've ever had a recipe with it that I didn't like. (And I was going to tell you that you can freeze it, but I see Mary beat me to it!)

I remember the first time I made coconut milk also... in Thailand. After we made the milk, we boiled it down to separate out the oil. I tried it once when I got home and don't need to do that again :)

I also freeze coconut. I've never had any problems with texture.

How serendipitous! I am making a Filippino dish with squash and coconut milk right now! I feel deprived if there is not a can or two of coconut milk in my pantry. I have the Brazilian Fish Stew bookmarked (for several months? can it be?). Time to get cooking:)
BTW, it seems that I can comment on your site with Explorer:) It took a while, but now i'm happy!

Jenn, go for it! There are so many good choices here.

Kalyn, I'm definitely going to try freezing my leftovers now. Would you believe I've never tried it? I'm so grateful for readers who are smarter than I am.

Julia, I made pita bread from scratch once, though I lived three blocks from a pita bakery for years. I don't feel the need to do that again, either. Some "convenience" foods, like coconut milk, are well worth it.

Lana, I need to learn more about Filippino cooking. (And I'm so glad the comment feature is working for you now!)

The only thing I have made so far with Coconut milk is a trip to the store to buy non-dairy ice cream made with Coconut milk. Not because I am a health nut or lactose intolerant or a vegan...but simply because that ice cream is a DELICIOUS LOW-FAT alternative to my usual Ben and Jerry's! I hardly miss all that butterfat! :-)

I love love love coconut milk. I'm thinking I might not survive without it. I don't eat dairy, so coconut milk is a wonderful stand-in for cream in just about any dish. And of course, then there are the numerous curries and soups that call for it. Love your recipes!

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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