Some foods add a certain flavor and character to dishes that can’t be easily explained, but that linger in your mind and stomach memory for a long time. For me, coconut milk is one of those items. Its silky texture and sweet taste make it an ideal base for a lot of foods, tempering the spicy, smoothing out the sweet.

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Cooking with it

In Southeast Asia, India, Southern China, the Caribbean and several other places, most of them tropical, coconut milk is an important ingredient. Its versatile: it can be used as a foundation for a surprising variety of dishes, including meats, curries, soups, drinks and desserts. Thinner extractions of the milk are often used in curry dishes, whereas the thicker version is generally used for rich desserts. Anyone who has traveled to a hot region has likely had a memorable curry based on coconut milk.

Coconut milk has some nutrients—including iron, magnesium and vitamins C—but it also contains significant amounts of saturated fat. So you can cook with it, but, like everything, moderation is key. It has a similar texture to cow’s milk, which makes it a great option for vegans or those allergic to animal milk.

How to make it

The milk is made by grating the white flesh of a coconut, blending it with water to let the fats dissolve, then straining out the shreds. You can repeat this process several times, getting milk of progressively thinner consistency. The leftover shreds can be put in the oven and roasted, then ground and used as flour in baking or sprinkled over your favorite dessert. You can also simply buy coconut milk in a can or box at many grocery and specialty food stores.

Coconut rice is a great way to experience coconut milk cooking for the first time, and it adds something special to an everyday rice side dish. You simply add coconut milk and shredded coconut to your rice, with a bit of water, and cook. It makes a nice sweetish complement to a spicy dish.

Here are a few other recipes to try using coconut milk:

You see, for any meal, any course, coconut milk makes a nice addition. Go ahead and give it a try.

What’s your favorite recipe with coconut milk? Share your secrets in the comments!

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