You’ve got a solid rotation of recipes up your sleeve but every once in awhile, you want to try your hand at something new. Fortunately, you found just the thing: A divine dish that is going to rescue you from your culinary rut—and you’re raring to go until...Oops, forgot the coconut milk. All is not lost, friends. Simply pick a substitute for coconut milk from the following list and dinner is saved.
Wait, What Is Coconut Milk?
Have you ever tried to scrape out the flesh of a coconut and squeeze it like you’re milking a cow, you know, in order to procure coconut milk? Probably not...and that’s a good thing because it would be a fool’s errand. If you break open a coconut, you will find not a drop of milk. So where does coconut milk come from? Well, the name is a bit misleading: This rich, creamy substance is not so much milk as it is a puree.
Coconut milk is made from the grated white flesh of a ripe coconut. First, the grated meat is pressed to extract the high-fat coconut cream and then it is soaked in hot water and passed through cheesecloth in order to strain out the ‘milk’. High-quality coconut milk (i.e., not the stuff advertised as ‘lite’) typically contains both the milk and the coconut cream, which can be observed as a thin, clear layer of fat sitting on the top of the milky-white stuff when you first open the can.
How Is Coconut Milk Used?
This decadent concoction can lend creaminess and rich, subtly sweet flavor to a host of savory dishes—including soups, curries and even sautéed veggies. Much like heavy cream, coconut milk—a vegan alternative to dairy—is remarkably versatile, going down just as easily in breakfast dishes as it does in spicy Southeast Asian dinners.
The Best Coconut Milk Substitutes
1. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt makes an excellent 1:1 substitute for coconut milk in curries, soups, and savory dishes of all kinds says cookbook author Jules Clancy. But there is one thing to keep in mind with this swap: Boiling the yogurt will cause it to split and curdle, so make sure to stir this ingredient into your dish at the end of cooking and simply allow it to warm through.
2. Heavy Cream
This swap obviously doesn’t have the subtle coconut flavor of the real stuff. However, heavy cream does mimic the rich and creamy mouthfeel of coconut milk and is equally versatile in the kitchen. Because the cream is higher in fat than coconut milk, Clancy recommends diluting it by adding ½ cup water for every 1 cup cream.
3. Soy or Almond Milk
Looking for a vegan substitute for coconut milk? No problem. According to chef extraordinaire Nigella Lawson, both soy and almond milk are adequate (albeit slightly thinner) stand-ins for the ingredient. To maintain the same consistency in your final dish, consider adding slightly less soy or almond milk than the amount of coconut milk called for. Alternatively, you could also use one of these non-dairy milks as a 1:1 substitution wherever coconut milk is called for and then add a teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken the dish. Just double-check that the soy or almond milk you’re working with is plain (i.e., unsweetened) or you might derail your dinner.
4. Evaporated Milk
This swap could not be any easier. Per the foodie pros from On the Gas, you can just use evaporated milk as a 1:1 substitute for coconut milk and you’re all set. Word to the wise: Coconut flavored evaporated milk is, in fact, a thing—and it’s even safe for those who suffer from coconut allergies. Who knew?