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

By Antara Sinha
April 07, 2020
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Of the most underrated pantry staples, canned coconut milk tops the list. Supremely versatile, coconut milk shines in everything from stellar desserts, comforting weeknight home cooking, to elevated, and 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 puts this unsung pantry hero to good use in a homey, comforting pot of slow-simmered beans, a centerpiece-worthy vibrant cake, a fragrant, invigorating soup, to a steamed mussel dish that’s surprisingly simple and fuss-free. These six recipes make a good case to always have a can or two of coconut milk on hand at all times. 

Greg DuPree

The Chicken That’ll Have You Grilling On a Weeknight

Coconut in the marinade, in the chile-lime sauce, and in  the rice—the ingredient that ties this whole dish together are those cans of 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

Like a “hug in a bowl,” the bright turmeric, garlic, ginger, and lime paired with a creamy, rich coconut milk base makes 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 a crispy garlic chips and a drizzle of fragrant garlic oil adds an extra layer of aromatic flavor. You’ll want to make extra of the curry paste base. You can use it in everything from scrambled eggs, to chickpea stew, to salad dressings for an extra zing of brightness. 

The Pot of Beans That’ll Be Your New Comfort-Food Favorite

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. 

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The Recipe That’s As Easy As It Is Impressive 

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 

Get the Recipe: Coconut-Creamed Swiss Chard

Lusciously rich, you won’t miss cream at all in this stellar vegan take on a Southern staple. Reducing the coconut cream makes it velvet and deepens the flavor. Coconut milk adds slight sweetness that works beautifully with bitter swiss chard. With 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’ve Got in the Fridge 

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

Get the Recipe: Keralan Vegetable Stew

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. Herby and bright thanks to a spritz of lemon juice and addition of cilantro, every element of the dish makes the rice flavorful and luscious. It all comes together in one pot, making it weeknight friendly and perfect when you want something fast, flavorful, and filling on the table as soon as possible. 

Abby Hocking

The Dessert That Can Outshine Dinner

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 it just so happens that the whole dessert is 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.