There are so many creative ways to use this rich and creamy, shelf-stable ingredient in recipes at home.

By Laura Rege
April 22, 2020
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vegan butternut squash soup topped with seeds
Credit: Bryan Gardner

Next time you're stocking your kitchen cupboards, don't forget to buy one of our test kitchen's favorite pantry essentials: canned coconut milk. With a can of this versatile, shelf-stable ingredient on hand, you are ready to make a wide range of recipes from savory to sweet. Whether you looking to add mild coconut flavor and rich, creamy texture or to replace dairy with an alternative ingredient, coconut milk is there for you. Ahead, we share some of our favorite uses for canned coconut milk.

Pro tip: When you open a can of coconut milk, you'll most likely find it separated into two layers—a rich, thick cream on top and a milky liquid on the bottom. This is expected and does not mean there's anything wrong with your can. Just whisk or blend to bring it back together, then use according to your recipe's instructions

Add Creaminess to Beverages

Enhance your favorite coffee or tea with a touch of velvety coconut milk rather than diary. You can also use it to make a golden latte. For something a little more fun, mix coconut milk into a classic cocktail, like a piña colada.

Bake with It

Once paired with a little sugar, coconut milk is transformed from a savory ingredient into a powerful addition in your favorite dessert. Add coconutty flavor to custard-based desserts (like flan and coconut cream pie), frozen treats (like dairy-free ice cream), and baked goods (like our coconut cake and delicious two-ingredient vegan frosting). You can also swap it for almond milk in these vegan chocolate cupcakes.

Go Sweet

Speaking of swapping, whether you are out of milk or cooking for someone who is dairy intolerant, canned coconut milk adds a subtly delicious nutty note to baked goods. Best of all, coconut milk can be swapped for dairy products in most desserts; try a one to one ratio in your favorite baked goods. The texture might not be exactly the same, but it will work. Coconut's flavor goes so well with pretty much anything sweet, including chocolate, vanilla, nuts, and fruit-flavored desserts, so you can't go wrong.

Make Creamy Dips, Sauces, and Marinades

Adding coconut milk to marinades helps tenderizes meat and infuses it with flavor. Once your protein has had time to soak up the flavor, grill, roast, or sear as you would normally. Combine coconut milk with peanuts to make the very popular Thai dipping sauce, satay. Another tasty option would be to make a coconut-flavored sauce to serve with chicken.

Stir It Into Soups

Adding anywhere from a splash to a whole can of coconut milk creates a creamy, nourishing broth for your favorite soups. Try a coconut spin on chicken noodle soup or put together a batch of our vegetarian zoodle soup. Don't limit yourself just to brothy soups, either; coconut milk adds depth to puréed vegetable soups like this gingery butternut squash soup and chunky soups like minestrone.

Turn It Into Breakfast

Substitute coconut milk for dairy milk in your favorite oatmeal, chia pudding, pancake, and waffle recipes. Blend it into smoothie to add a creamy texture or make a coconut milk-based smoothie parfait.

Combine It with Curry Spices

A match made in heaven, coconut milk and curry spices come together to create rich, flavorful broths. The coconut milk cools the spices in curry and adds its signature nutty-sweet flavor and thick texture. Curries are much easier to make than you think; just combine coconut milk with red, green, yellow, or any curry paste or dried curry spice mixes like Madras or garam masala. Then, top vegetables or any meat, such as chicken, beef, shrimp, or fish, with the sauce.

Use It to Replace Dairy in Creamy Sides

Add rich, creamy texture and nuttiness to classic dishes like creamed spinach and mashed sweet potatoes using this non-dairy option. You can also mix it into rice to delicious effect—coconut rice is just about one of the most irresistible ways to use canned coconut milk.

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