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What Is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is an opaque, white liquid extracted from the meat of a mature coconut. The traditional method for making coconut milk involves grating coconut meat, mixing it with hot water, and pressing the liquid through a cheesecloth. This process produces a rich, fatty liquid known as coconut cream. Coconut cream can be further processed into coconut oil or pressed again to make coconut milk. Commercially processed coconut milk—the kind you’ll find in cans at the grocery store—is grated and pressed mechanically, and often stabilized with the addition of guar gum.
What Is the Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Water?
There are a couple of notable differences between these two coconut-based beverages. Coconut water is clear and comes from the inside of a young coconut. You can access coconut water by cracking open a fresh, immature coconut and extracting the liquid with a straw. Mature coconuts contain nut meat instead of coconut water. You can turn the meat into milk by grating it and incorporating water, just like almond milk.
4 Dishes That Feature Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is a staple ingredient in India, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, where it’s used in soups, stews, and desserts. Try homemade coconut milk in:
- South Indian fish curry: Fish curry is an Indian dish featuring white fish cooked in a spiced broth or sauce made from coconut milk, typically served with basmati rice, idli, or dosa.
- Vegan White Russian cocktail: This vegan twist on the classic cocktail features coffee liqueur, coconut milk, and vodka.
- Dairy-free Indian butter chicken: This dairy-free version of Indian butter chicken features tandoori chicken cooked in a tangy, velvety coconut cream sauce.
- Dairy-free palak paneer: Traditional palak paneer contains dairy in the forms of ghee (clarified butter), heavy cream, and paneer. However, you can create a dairy-free variation of this classic creamy dish by swapping the ghee with olive oil, the heavy cream with coconut milk, and the paneer with tofu.
How to Make Your Own Coconut Milk
If you have access to mature coconuts (and a hammer), you can make fresh coconut milk. You can also make homemade coconut milk using unsweetened coconut flakes or shredded coconut. You’ll need a blender to grind the coconut flakes with water. A nut milk bag is a handy tool for straining out the milk, but you can also use a cheesecloth, a fine-mesh strainer, and a clean kitchen towel.
Homemade Coconut Milk Recipe
MakesAbout 4 cups
Prep Time15 min
Total Time15 min
- 8 ounces unsweetened shredded coconut
- Salt, to taste (optional)
- In a large bowl, combine shredded coconut with 4 cups of hot (not boiling) water. Let the mixture sit until the coconut softens and the water has cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.
- Transfer the coconut-water mixture to the bowl of a food processor or blender and blend on high until the liquid is opaque, and the coconut has broken down, about 1 minute.
- Set a nut milk bag or fine mesh strainer lined with a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth over a large bowl and pour the coconut mixture into the nut milk bag. Squeeze and massage the mixture with your hands to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Discard the leftover coconut meal (or dry it to make coconut flour) and season the coconut milk with salt to taste.
- Store coconut milk in glass jars or other airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
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