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Canned coconut milk is a welcome presence in any pantry.

If you’re vegan, vegetarian, or just veering into a plant-based diet and you don’t have coconut milk at the ready, get with the program! It’s not only satisfyingly filling and creamy (without any dairy), but chock-full of healthy fats and antioxidants. 

Even if you’re a carnivore, it’s ubiquitous in many iconic meaty Asian, Oceanian, and African dishes. You’d be remiss to be stocked with coconut milk and not have an ample supply of curry paste and/or powder too. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly. As an added bonus, both are shelf stable (just be sure to refrigerate curry paste after opening).

And the desserts. Oh, the desserts!

Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping a Pantry Like a Pro

What Is Coconut Milk?

coconut milk

Shutterstock

Unlike coconut water, the liquid that accumulates in the cavity of the fruit, coconut milk is made from the flesh, which itself is a build-up of solidified water that accumulates as it ripens. The skin is removed, the flesh is shredded and simmered in hot water, then strained.

Light coconut milk (often labeled lite coconut milk) is thinned with water. It’s healthier, but if you want a fuller, richer flavor that replicates your takeout favorites, go with the regular. (For cooking purposes, skip the boxed version which is intended for drinking.) You can also opt for thicker, fattier coconut cream if your dish is in need of more body.

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Coconut Milk Recipes

We have even more coconut milk recipes, but unlock the sweet and savory keys of coconut milk with some of our favorites below:

Thai Green Curry Chicken Thighs

Chowhound

Coconut milk and green curry paste lay the flavor foundation to this classic Thai curry, but fish sauce pulls a funky assist. Beyond the chicken thighs the fiery and filling dish calls for cilantro, green beans, bell pepper, and scallions but feel free to add a mix of whatever veggies you have on hand. Get our Thai Green Curry Chicken Thighs recipe.

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Chowhound

Your kids (and other picky eaters) will not only love this vegan mac (coconut milk deftly subs in for the cow juice), they’ll be successfully tricked into eating broccoli and cauliflower without a word of complaint. Get our Vegan Macaroni and Cheese recipe.

Coconut Rice

Add a tropical touch to boring old rice. The starchy and ever-so-slightly sweet foundation of many a savory takeout order, it’s worth nailing down the basics of this humble dish. Once you achieve mastery of our Coconut Rice recipe, try your hand at nasi lemak, the fragrant, multi-layered Malaysian breakfast staple prepared with dried anchovies and a spicy sambal on a base of the deliciously rich rice.

Turkey Mulligatawny Soup

turkey mulligatawny soup

Chowhound

Either your bird was too big or your guests ate like one, but either way, don’t throw away that leftover turkey. Whip up this hearty Indian soup with the help of good ol’ coconut milk and its sidekicks, curry powder and garam masala. Get our Turkey Mulligatawny Soup recipe.

Chili Garlic Green Bean Casserole

Chowhound

Green bean casserole is an American dinner table staple (particularly during Thanksgiving), and for good reason. The O.G. recipe is undeniably scrumptious and easy to make, but know that there are myriad ways to spruce it up, including this Asian-inspired chili and coconut version. Get our Chili Garlic Green Bean Casserole recipe.

Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats with Summer Fruit

Chowhound

Though you may greet every morning craving a smorgasbord of pancakes, bacon, and eggs, your heart and waistline will thank you for making overnight oats a regular habit. Whip this up coconut milk-soaked delight the evening prior and wake up singing, “Ch-ch-ch-chia!”. Get our Overnight Oats recipe.

Red Curry Sloppy Banh Mi Sandwiches

red curry sloppy banh mi sandwich

Chowhound

A Vietnamese standard meets latchkey kid weeknight staple with these mouthwatering coconut milk-infused fusion sandos. Choose your curry paste wisely and season to taste. Get our Red Curry Sloppy Banh Mi Sandwiches recipe.

Coconut Panna Cotta

coconut panna cotta

Christina Lane/Chowhound

This is the perfect easy closer to a fancy feast for two at home. Christina Lane’s creamy coconut custard is extra sweet thanks to a topping of fig and honey. Get the Coconut Panna Cotta recipe.

Halo-Halo Ice Pops

halo halo ice pops

Chowhound

These frozen stunners, inspired by the popular Filipino dessert halo-halo, are paleo-friendly, vegan, dairy-free, and Instagrammable to the nth degree. Ube (purple yam) is on top, coconut milk takes the bottom, while a host of goodies are studded throughout the popsicle. Get our Halo Halo Ice Pops recipe.

David is a food and culture writer based in Los Angeles by way of New York City. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, CBS Local, Mashable, and Gawker.
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