Our Favorite Recipes That Start with a Can of Coconut Milk

Sweetly scented coconut milk adds creaminess and depth to everything from chicken with rice to luscious cake.

Of the most underrated pantry staples, canned coconut milk tops the list. Supremely versatile, coconut milk shines in everything from stellar desserts and comforting weeknight meals to elevated, impressive company-worthy dishes. The unsung hero in poultry marinades, soup bases, and poaching liquids, keeping canned coconut milk lets you traverse the globe when it comes to flavors and cuisines. Our favorite coconut milk recipes put this pantry staple to good use in a homey, comforting pot of slow-simmered beans; a vibrant, centerpiece-worthy cake; a fragrant, invigorating soup; and a steamed mussel dish that's surprisingly simple and fuss-free. These eight recipes make a good case to always have a can or two of coconut milk on hand.

The chicken that'll have you grilling on a weeknight

Grilled Chicken with Coconut Rice and Chile Lime Sauce
Greg DuPree

With coconut in the marinade, the chile-lime sauce, and the rice, the ingredient that ties this whole dish together is that coconut milk you have on hand. The chicken gets crisp on the outside but stays juicy and tender thanks to a tangy, garlicky marinade. This dish is a great way to mix up outdoor summer grilling, but it's simple enough to make a weeknight meal extra special.

The soup that's as comforting as a hug

Ginger Turmeric Noodle Soup Recipe
Jennifer Causey

Like a "hug in a bowl," the bright turmeric, garlic, ginger, and lime paired with a creamy, rich coconut milk base make this soup as invigorating as it is comforting. A can of coconut milk and a well-stocked spice cabinet does most of the heavy lifting for this dish, and crispy garlic chips and a drizzle of fragrant garlic oil add another layer of aromatic flavor. You'll want to make extra curry paste to use as a base in everything from scrambled eggs to chickpea stew to salad dressings for a zing of brightness.

The pot of beans that'll be your new comfort-food favorite

Black-Eyed Peas with Coconut Milk and Ethiopian Spices

Berbere, coconut milk, and habanero pepper (don't worry, it's seeded!) are what take a humble pot of beans to new heights in this creamy, flavor-packed dish. A long simmer over low heat ensures that the peas are seasoned and creamy-tender all the way through, and herbs at the finish add brightness. Berbere, an Ethiopian ground chile spice mix, can be found at specialty stores or online, and it's worth having in your spice cabinet because of its mild, fruity, floral heat.

The recipe that's as easy as it is impressive

Steamed Mussels with Coconut Milk and Thai Chiles
© Maura McEvoy

Mussels seem like they would be a time-consuming indulgence, but this speedy, one-pot dish has minimal cleanup and can be ready in under an hour. Coconut milk and simple aromatics like ginger and garlic perfume the mussels through. This easy-to-make, Thai-inflected version of the French classic will be your new party menu staple: It's citrusy, fragrant, and mildly seasoned, with just the right amount of heat from Thai chiles.

The vegan take on a Southern classic

Coconut-Creamed Swiss Chard Recipe
Victor Protasio

Lusciously rich, you won't miss cream at all in this stellar vegan take on a Southern staple. Coconut milk adds a slight sweetness that works beautifully with bitter Swiss chard; reducing the coconut cream makes it velvety and deepens the flavor. With its simple ingredients, keep this recipe on hand when you're looking for a dairy-free side to add to the table, or if you love the nutty-sweet flavor that coconut brings.

The speedy stew you can make with whatever you have in the fridge

Keralan Vegetable Stew

This colorful stew with perfectly tender vegetables is flavor-packed, versatile, and ready in under an hour. A creamy coconut milk base and fragrant tempered spices like ginger, cloves, and black pepper can work with almost any root vegetables and beans you have on hand. Earthy turmeric, peppery curry leaves, and just a hint of heat from chiles make even the most humble vegetables shine. Pair with steamed rice for a warm, comforting meal.

Your new favorite way to cook rice

Chicken schmaltz, garlic, cumin, and coconut milk all co-mingle in the pan to make this your favorite pot of rice ever. It's herby and bright thanks to a spritz of lemon juice and the addition of cilantro. Everything comes together in just one pot for a weeknight-friendly dish that's perfect when you want something fast, flavorful, and filling on the table as soon as possible.

The dessert that can outshine dinner

Coconut Milk Cake with Pistachios, Whipped Coconut Cream and Strawberry Glaze
Abby Hocking

This cake is a flavor-packed show-stopper: Luscious, pillowy whipped coconut cream and a vibrant pink strawberry glaze sit atop a coconut cake with crispy edges and a gooey, thick crumb — and the whole dessert just so happens to be vegan. The cake gets its nutty and floral flavor from cardamom and pistachios, and the finishing berry glaze gets its head-turning color from freeze-dried strawberries. If you're looking for a dessert to wow a crowd, and you just so happen to have a few cans of coconut milk stashed in your pantry, this is your go-to.

Updated by
Antara Sinha

Antara Sinha is a New York-based food writer and editor who has been working in print and digital media since 2017. Her articles and recipes have appeared in Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, MyRecipes, MSN, Yahoo News, Real Simple, Allrecipes, and Southern Living. She is an associate cooking editor at Bon Appétit.

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