We’re off to Tanzania this month. “Prawns in Coconut Sauce” and “Pilau Masala” are headlining the menu. These recipes have been graciously shared with us by Miriam Kinunda, the author of the blog “Taste of Tanzania.” I’ve tested both recipes and I give them the thumbs up. You’ll find many other recipes to choose from on her site, as well as some very good ones on our own Dining for Women recipe site.
One very common ingredient in Tanzanian cuisine is coconut milk. Of course, if you lived in Tanzania, you would make your own. In fact, Miriam Kinunda exhorts us to never buy the stuff in the can. Once I realized that all the recipes I am sharing with you this month call for coconut milk, I set about researching the best way to make my own coconut milk. I hope you’ll find my article and recipe very useful!
How to Make Coconut Milk Three Ways
Why would you go to the trouble of making your own coconut milk when you can easily purchase canned coconut milk in any grocery store?
Nutrition! Homemade coconut milk made from fresh, dried, coconut is far richer in vitamins, food enzymes, and nutrients than coconut milk from a can or box. In fact, fresh coconut milk contains three times as much vitamin C as canned coconut milk and is richer in thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and panthothenic acid, too.
Another good reason to ditch the can is that most canned foods contain BPA in the lining of the can, which can leach into your food. And if you still need convincing to give this a try, how about homemade coconut milk just tastes better!
There are three ways to make coconut milk, as I see it: old school, fast and easy and quick and dirty.
Old School: If you click on this link to the “Taste of Tanzania” blog, Miriam Kinunda will demonstrate how to make coconut milk the “old school” way, that is, the way it is authentically prepared in most African countries. I was fascinated by her method, as I had never seen it before, and honestly never even gave a thought to making coconut milk. Now, I’m pretty sure you are not going to go out and buy a coconut grating stool – but I thought you should see this as a frame of reference.
Fast and Easy: Another method is what I call “fast and easy,” as compared to the old-school method. You will start with a fresh whole coconut in the brown husk. Don’t make the mistake of purchasing a “young Thai coconut” shrink wrapped in plastic. Make sure you check the three “eyes” and press to see that they are firm, and give it a good shake; you should hear a lot of coconut water sloshing around. That’s how you will know if you’ve got a good coconut.
Unfortunately, after I made coconut milk using a fresh coconut, I can’t recommend it. I didn’t like the taste! It could be because I used the water that came out of the coconut as my blending liquid, and I don’t like coconut water. That was dumb. I was blindly following the recipe and it certainly seemed to make sense.
I only mention this because I want you to know that you should always feel free to alter a recipe or make substitutions that please you; listen to your intuition. In this case my intuition would have been to use plain water as the blending liquid, although I can’t say for certain that I would have liked it better that way.
Since I went to the trouble of testing this method I wanted to share my experience with you. Perhaps I have saved you from making the same mistake I did, or maybe you will like coconut milk made this way. If you are curious about this method, I am sharing the link here so that you can see for yourself how to prepare it.
Quick and Dirty: The third method, the one I call “quick and dirty,” is the fastest yet. Had I known about this method last week it would have saved me a dash to the store mid-recipe when I discovered I was out of coconut milk. All you need is a bag of shredded coconut and a blender to make the magic happen.
I like the flavor profile of this coconut milk the best. The milk tasted better than purchased canned milk, and I thought it was more pleasing than one made from fresh coconut. Luckily this is the easiest one to make.
How to Make Coconut Milk from Shredded Coconut (Tested)
Makes 2 cups
2 cups very hot water
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I used Trader Joe’s organic shredded coconut)
Pour the hot water and coconut into a blender jar and let sit for 30 minutes. This allows the coconut to soften and for the water to cool down. I rushed the process and only waited 15 minutes, but then the coconut was too hot to squeeze through the cheesecloth, so be patient! Process until fully pureed, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is. I used a Vitamix and let it go for 3 minutes. The mixture will look more like snow, and not terribly liquid.
If you are using a food processor follow the same method as above, but you will likely need to process longer, about 5 minutes.
Next, scrape/pour the coconut into a strainer lined with cheesecloth set over a large bowl. Once all the contents have been emptied over the strainer, pour some of the strained liquid back into your blender container to fully rinse out all the remaining coconut. Gather the cheesecloth corners and twist into a ball; squeeze to obtain all the coconut milk. And when you think you’re done, give it one more squeeze to make sure you got everything! If you don’t have cheesecloth you can also use a nut milk bag, or you could substitute a thin piece of fabric. Don’t try using paper towel though, as it will rip when you try to squeeze the coconut mass.
Fresh coconut milk can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. It will separate with the fat rising to the top. Just stir well to use.
I often freeze any leftover coconut milk in ice cube trays. After the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and place into a Ziploc bag. The large-cube silicon trays work great, they can hold up to 1/3 cup of coconut milk, so this recipe fills one 6-cube tray perfectly. If you are using the smaller ice cube trays of 12 you will be able to fit about 2 tablespoons in each of the wells.
Have fun cooking this month, and please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments on your experience with these recipes.
Recipe credit: Linda McElroy
Photo credit with permission and some source materials: