While we attempt to defrost from the wintery weather, dreaming of escaping somewhere tropical might just pull us through till spring arrives. Coconut milk is one of my favorite ingredients. If it’s not one of your pantry staples, it should be. Coconut milk imparts a vegan creaminess and an aroma of tropical cuisines that’ll make you feel comforted from the inside out. So while you thaw out from the cold and think warm thoughts, prepare something with coconut milk to take you somewhere warm and tropical right at home.
Different from coconut water, coconut milk is a rich and creamy liquid that is a product of grated or pulverized and strained coconut flesh. It is rich in natural fat and can be found in full- or lower-fat varieties. A little is all you need for most recipes in proportion to other ingredients like water or stock. You can freeze leftover coconut milk in an ice-cube tray or freezer-safe ziplock bags or containers. It is used in Caribbean and Southeast Asian cuisines a lot, but can be used in any type of cooking.
Breakfast. Use it as a substitute for milk in your hot or cold cereal. Dilute with water to make it less creamy. It’s delicious with oatmeal, quinoa, or other grain used for porridge along with dried or fresh fruits and nuts. Also a great addition for smoothies.
Soups and sides. It makes a great non-dairy cream or milk substitute for stews, sauces, dressings, and soups—like butternut squash, broccoli, tomato, or any other puréed soup. It is used often to steam coconut rice and create other side dishes like mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, stir-fried or sautéed vegetables, or in a sauce or dressing for steamed, roasted, or raw vegetables.
Mains. Add to broth for a Thai vegetable and noodle bowl or use as a vegan creamer for a creamy mushroom chicken or fish dish, and it’s wonderful in dishes with tofu. Chicken or tofu curry is particularly delicious with the flavor of coconut milk to balance the other flavors and spices.
Desserts. Coconut milk is naturally a match for sweet desserts, especially those that call for heavy cream. It can be used to make rice pudding, vegan ice cream, or chocolate mousse or pudding. The cream that rises to the top of the coconut milk can be whipped with powdered sugar to create a vegan whipped cream. v
Coconut Cream Pie
For a shortcut, use a store-bought piecrust instead of making your own.
For the crust and coconut
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. salt
½ cup plus 6 tsp. canola oil, divided
¼ cup coconut milk
2 cups shredded unsweetened dried coconut
4 Tbsp. powdered sugar, sifted
8 tsp. water
For the pastry cream and topping
½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 can coconut milk, divided
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chilled whipped cream
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour and salt in medium bowl. Add oil and coconut milk, and mix to form dough. Roll out between two sheets of waxed paper, then flip into deep pie dish. Press crust down and up the sides and trim off excess. Line crust with foil and top with dried beans, and bake until golden, 25–30 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, toss shredded coconut and powdered sugar in medium bowl. Combine 6 teaspoons canola oil and water in small bowl. Pour over sugared coconut and gently stir to coat. Let sit 10 minutes, fluffing occasionally with a fork. Toss ⅔ cup of the sugared coconut mixture in small skillet over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Let cool.
Whisk ½ cup sugar, eggs and yolk, and flour in medium bowl. Bring 1½ cups coconut milk and remaining 1½ cups sugared coconut to a simmer. Gradually add to egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan and cook until thickened and comes to a boil, stirring 4 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in vanilla, then transfer to a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap pressed to pastry cream, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Transfer chilled pastry cream to prepared piecrust. Cover and chill. Beat cream with remaining ¼ cup coconut milk and 2 tablespoons sugar in bowl until soft peaks form. Spread whipped cream over pie; sprinkle with cooled toasted sugared coconut. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.
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