Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Gabriella thinks it's time you experimented with coconut milk.
You've been pinching your pennies: you pack your lunch, eat your fair share of beans, and have settled down pretty comfortably with tofu. You're happy enough, it's true, but you just wish there was a little something…more.
It's time to add coconut milk to your list of cheap staples. It imparts a certain fragrance that's reminiscent of tropical cuisines, of eating on the beach while bronzed and coated in sea salt. It's rich -- almost embarrassingly so -- without being expensive.
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It is, by far, the sexiest canned good.
A little primer: Coconut milk is the liquid product of grated coconut meat -- the high oil content is what contributes to the white color and enveloping richness. It's available in varying thicknesses, from full-fat to thinner, lower-fat varieties that have been strained several times. No matter what concentration you choose, here's how you can add that bit of magic that's missing from your meals.
Soups and Sides Coconut milk is a great vegan alternative in soups because it adds creaminess without any dairy. Try a swirl in butternut squash soup or save some for when beet season is in full swing. It also amplifies side dishes, like sweet potatoes or even lettuce.
Mains All of the same affordable main dishes you've been eating for dinner can be taken up a step with the addition of coconut milk. This bowl of vegetables with noodles takes all of 20 minutes to whip up and satisfies any Thai takeout craving. Coconut milk also dresses up legumes nicely, whether you're going with a bowl of rice and beans or chickpeas and spinach. And pressed tofu -- the ultimate blank canvas of proteins -- is more than eager to soak it up.
Desserts No need to stop at savory -- coconut milk is a natural in desserts. It's amazing what you can do with fruit, rice, or chocolate when you open up a can.
Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use coconut milk?
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).