I’ve used coconut milk several times this week, and I have to say, I’m sold. A jar I had had on a shelf for over a year came in handy in helping me figure out how to make vegan potato latkes at the last minute. There was no time for even a quick internet search, and I needed to make the potatoes and the flour bind without eggs. Needless to say, the coconut milk worked OK. Not great.
But it left me with 75% of a jar left over.
What did I use it for, do you ask? Teva Castel, the local organic grocery, had a sale last week on buckwheat noodles, the Japanese soupy variety. I bought four packs (some an interesting green tea flavor), as pasta goes quick in my house. The thing about these noodles, however, is their thicker and chewier texture, not to mention a more earthy flavor. Not your Italian pasta. I couldn’t make a European-style tomato-based vegetable sauce go with it, and I didn’t have the time and patience to make a Japanese-style broth for it.
So here’s what I did the first time – and it was spur of the moment, big time, let me tell you. I boiled one serving of the green tea noodles in salted water, as you do, cooked to slightly under my desired level of done-ess, and strained. In the same pot, I sauteed eminceed onions (halve an onion lengthwise, cut very thin rings) with olive oil, lots of soy sauce, cumin, turmeric, chili, hot paprika, and sweet dried basil – lots of it. When the onion had cooked for a minute, still slightly hard, I returned the noodles, dripped a bit more olive oil and tamari sauce, stirred, and then added about a third of a can of coconut milk. I stirred the whole concoction on medium heat until the milk was absorbed/evaporated, and what was left was a sticky gooey noodley Thai-style dinner. It looked like Thai green curry, I kid you not.
It was delicious.
I made a slightly more elaborate and slightly better planned version of this a couple days later involving garlic and sweet potatoes, in addition to the onions. I cooked those earlier in the process in a frying pan (potatoes take a while, dontcha know), AND I tried infusing the veg in the pan with the coconut milk first, THEN added it to the strained noodles back in the pot.
And what do I mean by the great equalizer? I mean that coconut milk is exceptionally versatile and useful. I have a very good friend who is vegan, and I haven’t been cooking for him for a while. Well, here’s a solution. I am nearly certain that you can replace coconut milk for regular milk in almost any recipe and come out with good, if different, results. Sometimes, much, much better, as it’s very fattening. In fact, I intend to try it out in ice cream, the quintessential dairy dish, something my vegan friend and several lactose-intolerant friends have expressed missing a great deal.
In a world where people are abandoning dairy as a potentially unnatural source of nutrition for humans (not that I am expressing any sympathy or antipathy for the movement), coconut milk is a natural replacement in cooking. I wouldn’t have it in my Cheerios. But I prefer it over already-somewhat-processed soy or rice milks.
Happy holidays, folks!