Weeknight Cooking

How to Use Coconut Milk

October  9, 2013

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.


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. 


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?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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lajuliaficationdumonde October 24, 2013
I made coconut brown rice this evening - I've been dreaming of coconut rice ever since I had it at Jeepney in the East Village! I cooked the rice in 1/2 coconut milk, 1/2 water and added some shredded unsweetened coconut. So unbelievably fragrant! And delicious!
walkie74 October 24, 2013
I like using it for curry. In fact, now I won't eat curry any other way :)
Andrew October 9, 2013
I avoid coconut milk. It is unusually high in saturated fats. 1 cup gives you 255% of the recommended daily value of saturated fat and 85% total fat. Coconut products have become popular because they are the next highest oil on the list for saturation after the trans-fats are removed. Industrial food producers get stability without having to include trans fats in processed foods. Great for PR, lousy for people's health.
M. B. October 9, 2013
I like to make coconut milk corn chowder with roasted green chilies and caramelized shallots. Butter up some homemade corn tortillas and you've got yourself a nice meal.
smarshtastic October 9, 2013
I'll use coconut milk with the cheap ramen noodles; I'll cook the noodles, drain them, and set them aside. In the same saucepan, I'll add one of those individual boxes of chicken stock, a can of coconut milk, the seasoning packet and a variety of other things (fish sauce, grated ginger, minced garlic, lime, cilantro, sirracha, green onions, an egg, etc etc). A VERY cheap meal and super satisfying. I love coconut milk!
Ellen F. October 9, 2013
I love to cook with coconut milk as a substitute for dairy...here's a fabulous recipe for the Amazing No-Bake Watermelon Cake with non-dairy frosting using coconut milk...http://veganamericanprincess.com/amazing-easy-no-bake-watermelon-cake/