By Maria Russo
One of my favorite experiences while traveling through Thailand, Bali, Kerala and Sri Lanka was trying popular food staples of the respective cultures. Other than traditional spices used to prepare curries, one ingredient plays a large role in many dishes of Southeast Asia and South India: coconut milk.
I stopped drinking cow’s milk some time ago, and since, have been searching for a healthy, non-preservative filled substitute for my own curries, granolas and coffee. Store bought plant-based milks, no matter how healthy and organic they claim to be, are processed to the point where little nutrient value is left (most are also filled with thickeners and a few preservatives). There is also the option to purchase coconut milk in a BPA-lined can — no thanks.
After returning from Sri Lanka last week I became especially determined to figure out a way to make homemade coconut milk without enduring the hour-long process of prying meat from an actual coconut (a delicious result, yes, but much too time consuming). Alas, the building depression, nostalgia and longing to go back to Sri Lanka was the perfect catalyst for my search to find the ultimate coconut milk recipe (for Western lifestyles, sigh), which I’ve tweaked a bit and made my own.
6 cups water
3 cups of non-sweetened, organic shredded coconut
2 Tbs. of vanilla
Combine water, shredded coconut and vanilla in a large pot and turn heat on high. Turn off the flame just before the coconut milk mixture comes to a boil. Cover pot and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
If you have a blender that can withstand high heat, blend all ingredients for 1-2 minutes and transfer milk to a glass container after straining out most of the coconut particles through a cheese cloth (or use a tiny-holed strainer if you don’t have a cheese cloth). I find straining the milk over a large bowl is much easier than trying to perfectly squeeze the liquid into the container first. If you do not have a blender that can withstand high heat, wait for the milk to cool and then proceed with the aforementioned directions.
Store fresh coconut milk in the refrigerator as this recipe contains no preservatives, so the milk will have a relatively short life.
Tip: the coconut cream will rise to the surface after refrigeration, so you can skim off the top layer and use it in coffee for a creamy dairy substitute.