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Every week, a DIY expert spares us a trip to the grocery store and shows us how to make small batches of great foods at home.
If its ubiquitous presence on grocery store shelves is any indication, almond milk has taken the country by storm. I suppose this comes as no surprise, given the increasing populations of vegans, people with allergies and intolerances to dairy products, and others looking for a light, nutritious alternative to milk and cream. But the stuff in cartons contains preservatives and stabilizers that give it an odd aftertaste, and it often develops an unappealing, gummy consistency.
Fortunately, making nut milks at home isn’t hard. Plus, by making your own, you can control the quantity, sweetness, and thickness of the milk, and you can customize the flavor by adding vanilla, citrus zest, and spices. Not to mention that, like anything else, homemade tastes so much better!
I’ve found that nut milks provide more than just a good alternative to dairy. Often, they’re the better ingredient. For example, say you want to serve a creamy soup like Butternut Squash Soup with Sherry or Roasted Celery Soup, but don’t want to fill your guests up before the main event. Substituting a thick almond or cashew milk for the cows’ milk and cream lets you lighten these soups without sacrificing their luscious consistency. Additionally, cashew or almond milk (with a squeeze of lime added right before serving) magically improves any dal or curry. And what better way to get true almond and vanilla flavors into steel cut oats or granola than to use a milk made just of almonds, vanilla bean, and water?
First, measure and soak the nuts in about twice their volume of water. Let them sit at least overnight or (even better) for 24 hours.
Drain and put them in a blender with some fresh filtered water and any sweeteners, spices, and flavorings you want. Add a piece of sliced vanilla bean for the strongest vanilla flavor.
Blend on high speed for about 3 minutes. (You don’t need a Vitamix for this; a regular blender with a good motor will do!)
If you want a thicker nut milk, check for sweetness and flavoring ingredients, add more if necessary, and blend for another minute or so.
If you prefer the consistency of regular whole cows’ milk, add more water and blend for another full minute. Taste, add whatever ingredients need a boost, and then blend for another 30 seconds.
If you’ve added a vanilla bean for flavor, let the milk sit for about an hour, then blend it again for 10 – 15 seconds before straining.
If you haven't used a vanilla bean in your milk, strain it immediately into a sieve or colander lined with several layers of regular cheesecloth, or with the more tightly woven cheesecloth known as butter muslin or "90 muslin". You can get the latter from cheesemaking suppliers and at some craft and fabric stores.
You may need to push some of the pulp aside after about 10 minutes to make room for pouring more of the nut milk through.
After about 20 minutes – when the pulp is still moist but no milk is dripping through the strainer -- draw up the edges of the butter muslin and carefully twist them together at the top. Squeeze the pulp gently to extract the milk, taking care not to let the pulp itself squeeze out.
Put the milk into a covered jar or other glass container and refrigerate. Nut milks tend to separate, so I put mine in jars or tightly lidded pitchers that I can shake. A brisk stir with a spoon also works.
Cashews and pistachios get so soft and creamy after soaking that they generally don’t need to be strained. I scrape down the sides after 3 minutes and then blend them for an extra minute before pouring the milk into a clean jar or covered glass pitcher and refrigerating.
Be sure to rinse your cheesecloth in cold, filtered water so that you can reuse it. You’ll certainly want to, once you’ve tried this recipe.
1 cup raw almonds
Filtered water: 2 cups for soaking the nuts, plus 3 ½ cups for blending
3 to 4 pitted dates, or 1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup (optional, to taste)
For a vanilla-infused version, click here.
Looking for more uses for your nut milk?
• Drizzle lightly sweetened thick almond milk over fruit tarts, crisps and cobblers. Use it to lighten up your breakfast bread puddings and French toast, or in fun vegan puddings like this one.
• For a new spin on roasted butternut squash, mash it with a quarter cup or more of thick cashew or almond milk, salt, and a big pinch of recently-ground garam masala for an easy but elegant winter side dish.
• Blended with a few handfuls of berries, vanilla almond milk makes an irresistible smoothie.
Photos by James Ransom