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Cooking with coconut milk: Our favorite tips and recipes.


Coconut milk is made from the white interior of the coconut. By shredding it into coconut flakes and then pressing the flakes to extract all the creamy content, we get a smooth and delicious liquid. Cooking with coconut milk is popular in tropical and subtropical regions, where it adds a creaminess and subtle sweetness to dishes. 

Coconut milk is a mainstay in most cooking traditions in Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and India. It enhances savory curries, stews and soups, giving them a smooth, velvety texture. It complements sweet treats as well and is a great base for desserts like Thai coconut custard or Brazilian coconut brigadeiros.

This versatile milk also adds a slight tropical twist to frostings, fillings and beverages. Smoothies, milkshakes and ice cream blend nicely with its richness. With so much you can do with this milk, what’s a pantry without it?

The basics of cooking with coconut milk.

Coconut milk is packaged in two containers: cans and cartons. Cooking with coconut milk involves understanding the differences between the two and how to effectively incorporate them into recipes. Equally important is understanding proper storage to maintain the taste and quality of your coconut milk before use.

Understanding fat content.

Canned coconut milk is rich and thick, with a robust coconut flavor and higher fat content than coconut milk in cartons. Carton coconut milk has more water, a thinner consistency and a milder coconut taste. 

Always consider your desired consistency and flavor profile when cooking with coconut milk. Canned coconut milk is best for thick consistencies and stronger flavor, like puddings or dips. Carton coconut milk is good for places you’d use cow’s milk, like batters, smoothies or mild curries. 

How to choose high-quality coconut milk for your recipes.

Always look for high-quality coconut milk made with only a few ingredients, mainly coconut and water. Certain brands may use sugar, preservatives or other added flavors. Avoid those where possible. 

Flavor profile: What flavors pair best with coconut milk?

Because of its potential to balance bold flavors, coconut milk makes a natural pairing with aromatic spices. These can include turmeric, cumin, ginger, lemongrass and chili peppers. Remember that coconut milk in cartons has a milder flavor than the more potent canned milk, so tasting is important to get the balance right.

When adding coconut milk to recipes, begin with a small amount and keep tasting until it’s perfect. If the coconut flavor is too strong, try adding ingredients like lime juice, tamarind or fish sauce. If your sauce needs to be thicker but you don’t want to change the flavor, simply add a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with water.

Preventing curdling.

Coconut milk can curdle due to extended heat or high temperatures, which cause protein coagulation and separation. To prevent curdling, stir gently and simmer coconut milk over low to medium heat when heating. Only add acidic ingredients, like lime juice, toward the end of cooking. 

Store coconut milk in a cool, dry place and use it up quickly after opening it. Always give the carton a good shake before using it to ensure the coconut cream is well mixed with the water. For cans, stir the contents after opening.

Using coconut milk as a substitute for cream in vegan recipes.

When recipes call for a creamy, luscious base, carton coconut milk comes in handy. Its natural fats give it a rich quality while providing a thinner texture than canned coconut milk or dairy-based heavy cream. 

In velvety soups, lush curries and smooth sauces, carton coconut milk provides an excellent body and a luxurious mouthfeel. Its mild coconut note enhances flavor without overpowering the other spices. For baked goods like quick bread, muffins and cakes, carton coconut milk gives a delicate richness. 

If you’re using carton coconut milk instead of cream in a recipe, start by substituting at approximately a 1:1 ratio. You can adjust flavor, texture and consistency as needed for the dish. 

Adjust the level of coconut flavor by using more or less coconut milk. Begin with a small amount and keep tasting until it’s perfect. Also pay attention to texture and consistency. Combine the milk with thickeners like nut butter, cornstarch or vegan yogurt in sauces, or adjust liquid amounts to find your ideal moisture level in baked goods.

A few of our favorite savory recipes that use coconut milk.

Cooking with coconut milk becomes easier once you have some tempting recipe ideas. Here are a few of our favorite savory recipes that utilize carton coconut milk.

Chicken Tikka Masala

Combine the chicken with yogurt, garlic, ginger, spices, lime juice and coconut oil. Then, cook the chicken in ghee until slightly charred. 

Next, make the tikka masala sauce. Sauté onions, garlic and ginger, then add the remaining spices. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce and broth. Simmer for 15 minutes to let the flavors meld. Finally, add the chicken and coconut milk and simmer for five more minutes. Serve with a cilantro garnish.

View the full recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala

Coconut Curry Soup with Mussels and Scallops

Heat oil in a pot and sauté garlic, ginger and lemongrass. After adding coconut milk and broth, simmer for 15 minutes.

Add mussels and scallops to the soup and simmer for 4-6 minutes until cooked. Discard any unopened mussels. Garnish with cilantro and serve with bread.

View the full recipe: Coconut Curry Soup with Mussels and Scallops

One Pot Curry Bake

Sauté onions and garlic in oil. Add spices, then rice, cooking a few minutes each time. Pour in the coconut milk and simmer for 6 minutes. Add broth, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, peas and green beans. 

Cover and bake for 40 minutes. Fluff the rice and garnish it with cilantro, lime wedges and sliced almonds. Serve hot and enjoy!

View the full recipe: One Pot Curry Bake

Roasted Cauliflower Bowls w/Creamy Coconut Dressing

Preheat the oven. Coat cauliflower, asparagus and carrots with olive oil and seasonings, then roast them. Cook quinoa until tender.

Then, prepare the flavorful creamy dressing. Mix coconut milk, tahini, orange juice, maple syrup, sesame oil and sesame seeds. 

Assemble bowls with quinoa, roasted veggies, avocado and greens. Drizzle with the coconut dressing and eat up!

View the full recipe: Roasted Cauliflower Bowls w/Creamy Coconut Dressing

Sweet treats and desserts that use coconut milk.

It’s no surprise that cooking with coconut milk extends to desserts. Here are some treats to try out that utilize carton coconut milk.

Dairy-Free Coconut Caramel Chocolate Bars

Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Create a shortbread base using coconut flour, almond flour and maple syrup. Press this mixture into the dish, bake it for 10 minutes and allow it to cool.

Next, create a coconut caramel layer by blending coconut milk, almond butter, dates and coconut oil. Spread this mixture over the base and refrigerate it. For the final layer, melt chocolate with coconut oil, drizzle it over the caramel layer and sprinkle it with sea salt.

Let the bars chill for two hours before cutting into them. Store them in the fridge or freezer for a tasty treat anytime.

View the full recipe: Dairy-Free Coconut Caramel Chocolate Bars

Dairy-Free Coconut Raspberry “Nice” Cream

Blend frozen bananas, raspberries and coconut milk until creamy. Freeze for one or two hours before scooping into bowls. Garnish with coconut flakes, walnuts and fresh raspberries for a creamy indulgence!

View the full recipe: Dairy-Free Coconut Raspberry “Nice” Cream

Strawberry Rhubarb Cake 

Preheat your oven and grease your cake pans before combining the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cook the strawberries and rhubarb in a saucepan, with sugar, to create a compote. 

In a bowl, whisk the eggs, oil and coconut milk, then mix in the rhubarb syrup. Next, add the dry ingredients until just combined, then pour the mixture into the pans and bake.

To make the frosting, combine sugar with vegan butter, coconut milk and vanilla. Coat more strawberries with some sugar and muddle them. Once everything is cooled, layer the cakes, strawberries and frosting, then serve.

View the full recipe: Strawberry Rhubarb Cake

Vegan Chocolate Coconut Mousse

For this recipe, beat coconut cream and coconut milk until fluffy, then mix with melted chocolate. Chill for anywhere from 30 minutes to two days. Top it all off with coconut flakes and strawberries. Serve and enjoy the creamy delight!

View the full recipe: Vegan Chocolate Coconut Mousse

Upgrade your recipes with Pacific Foods.

Cooking with coconut milk is a great way to get started with plant-based dairy alternatives. Thankfully, there’s a delicious and convenient option — Pacific Foods coconut milk. 

With its authentic coconut taste and simple ingredients, Pacific Foods coconut milk is ideal for incorporating into your favorite sweet or savory recipes. Explore our coconut milk and get started with coconut-infused recipes.