My latest essential ingredient is coconut milk and wow, I’m so late to the game. It’s a staple in Southeast Asian and Indian cuisine among many other cultures of course, but now that I live part time in Belize, a place where I’m literally surrounded by coconut palms, I finally appreciate its many uses. It’s now a staple on my pantry shelf not just in cans but in cartons like our almond and soy milk come in as well as little dried powder packets. I don’t drink it as a beverage because it’s higher in fat and calories than almond milk et. al., but I do use it in my cooking at least three times a week, adding flavor and a touch of “cream” to my dishes. I even started making my own, so abundant are the coconuts in my part-time Belize home.
Coconut milk has all sorts of health benefits including a source of calcium and vitamin D and while it’s higher in saturated fat that other “milks” and even dairy milk, it may reduce the LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and improve HDL, the “good” cholesterol. It’s known as an immune system booster and might even help with weight loss, thanks to its status as a Medium-chain triglyceride, or MCT, which you’ll find in those “butter coffee” drinks. I’ve lost 25 pounds since living part time in Belize in part thanks to eating plenty of coconuts and pineapples, but also beans and rice and a lot less meat. It’s also so hot, I just don’t have the appetite for a heavy meal.
Coconut milk has also taken the place of dairy for me in my cooking and since I’m guilty of loading up the sour or heavy cream to make a dish more “rich,” I’ve now eliminated some not-so-healthful fats by using coconut milk. It also adds so much wonderful flavor. I’ve even gone one further and now make turmeric milk with the fresh turmeric at the Farmer’s Market. Turmeric is a great anti-inflammatory and is good for heart health. Both the from-scratch coconut milk recipe and my latest for turmeric, or “golden” milk are below.
And here are a few of the recipes I’ve been cooking up using my fresh coconut milk or a convenient packet of coconut powder. I also use it in smoothies with fresh pineapple and lime juice or in a cocktail like the Coconut Mojito, recipe below.
Thai coconut hummus
Makes about 2 cups
I make this with dried chickpeas that I cook in my Instant Pot but canned chickpeas are easier and don’t affect the texture.
2 cans chickpeas (15 ounces), drained
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup red curry paste
3 cloves garlic
Zest from 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh thai basil leaves or other fresh herbs of your choosing
Place the chickpeas, red curry paste, garlic, lime zest, and salt in a blender or food processor. Pour two-thirds of the coconut milk over it all and puree until smooth. If you’d like it less thick, add more of the coconut milk and puree once more.
Present in a bowl with fresh herbs sprinkled on top and your choice of crackers, breads and vegetables for dipping.
Shrimp with Chili-Mango Sauce
Mangos are in season in Belize right now but this is also great with pineapple or papaya. Pears and peaches work well, too.
3/4 cup mango chunks
3/4 cup sweet Thai chili sauce
1/4 cup orange marmalade
5 tablespoons coconut milk
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped cashews or peanuts
Jasmine rice, optional
Place mango, chili sauce, orange marmalade, coconut milk and lime juice in a skillet. Boil over medium heat, stirring. Add shrimp and scallions and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the shrim are just pink, about 7 minutes. Stir occasionally. Stir in the cilantro.
Sprinkle with nuts and additional cilantro. Serve with rice.
Makes 1 drink
1/2 lime cut into wedges
3 teaspoons sugar
1.5 ounces coconut rum
2 ounces coconut milk
8 mint leaves
Place the lime wedges, sugar and mint leaves in a tall glass and muddle with a wooden muddler or handle until the sugar is dissolved. Are rum and coconut milk. Fill glass with crushed ice and top with a float of seltzer. Garnish with one lime wedge and a mint sprig.
Make your own coconut milk
Use shredded coconut fresh from the coconut or get a bag of unsweetened shredded coconut
8-ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
4 cups hot water, almost to boiling
Special equipment: nut milk bag or cheesecloth.
Place the coconut and water in a blender or food processor. Let it rest for about five minutes so the coconut softens a bit.
Blend on high speed/level until the mix is milky, about 2 minutes. You’ll see coconut flecks but soon, you’ll strain that out.
Open the nut bag or cheesecloth and drape the edges over a bowl. Pour the coconut mixture into the nut bag. Gather the tops of the nut bag and close it shut, then squeeze all the liquid out over the bowl. Discard the remaining pulp or dry it and use it to make coconut flour.
Place the liquid into a jar or air-tight container. Use now or over the next week or so. It can also be frozen for about 3 months. If it separates, just shake it up a bit.
Makes 8 ounces
You can also use your nut milk of choice here.
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon coconut oil
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of pepper
Place all of the ingredients into a blender or food processor and mix on high until well-blended.
Chill in the refrigerator for later use or warm in a small saucepan until hot and drink.