Twenty-five years ago, people who needed an alternative to dairy milk turned to soy milk. Then rice milk arrived.
Today there’s quite a selection of non-dairy milks: almond, cashew, coconut, flax, hemp, oat, rice and soy.
Since 1999, according to market research firm Euromonitor, plant-based alternatives milks have grown in annual sales by an average of 10.9%. They are now a $1 billion-plus category in domestic retail sales.
The trend is based on personal factors: allergies, kosher and vegan diets, lactose intolerance and sustainable lifestyles (the manure and flatulence of dairy animals produce huge amounts of methane, a major greenhouse gas. Here’s more information).
As with dairy milks*, each plant-based milk has a different flavor and nutritional profile.
Although we drink a large amount of cow’s milk, we like plant-based milks for different reasons: chocolate and green tea almond or soy milk for a refreshing drink, cashew milk as a delicious newcomer, coconut milk for cooking.
We especially like coconut in creamy soups. It gives a slight Thai twist; add hot chile slices and lemongrass for the full Thai experience.
Some of our favorite thai dishes include coconut rice, coconut curried chicken, coconut pumpkin soup, and our beloved tom ka gai, coconut chicken soup. All get their coconut flavor from unsweetened coconut milk.
But for today, here’s a fusion soup: chowder with coconut milk. It has another popular Thai ingredient too: hot chile slices.
RECIPE: SPICY SEA BASS CHOWDER WITH COCONUT MILK
Sea bass is poached in coconut milk for this extra rich and velvety hearty chowder. DiscoverCaliforniaWines.com, which gave us the recipe, suggests that it be paired with California chardonnay or viognier.
Ingredients For 4 Servings
1 tablespoon (15g) coconut oil
5 spring onions, light green and white parts only, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 small red jalapeño, thinly sliced into rounds (substitute the slender Thai or birdseye chiles if you can find them)
5 medium Yukon Gold or other waxy potatoes (about 1½ pounds/675g), peeled and cut into ½-inch (1.25cm) cubes
1 large red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch (1.25cm) cubes
3 cups (720ml) unsweetened coconut milk, well stirred
½ cup (125ml) water
½ teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
2 medium zucchini (about 8 ounces/225g), peeled and cut into ½-inch (1.25cm) cubes
1½ pounds (680g) sea bass fillets, cut into 2-inch (5cm) pieces
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
1. HEAT the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking
2. ADD the onions, garlic, and jalapeño; cook, stirring for 1 minute.
3. ADD the potatoes; cook and stir for 1 minute.
4. STIR in the red bell pepper, coconut milk, water and salt. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 5 minutes
5. ADD the zucchini and bass. Bring to a simmer and cook for 7 minutes.
6. DIVIDE the chowder among 4 bowls. Squeeze the juice of one lime wedge over each serving.
*The list of animal milks drunk worldwide includes camel, cow, donkey, goat, horse, llama, reindeer, sheep, water buffalo and yak.
 Fish chowder with coconut milk (photo courtesy Discover California Wines). The recipe is below.  Coconut milk is available in cartons and cans (photo courtesy So Delicious).  Try coconut milk in your next banana smoothie (this recipe has pineapple as well, from Makes And Takes).  Many desserts can be made with coconut milk, from ice cream to this coconut milk flan (here’s the recipe from Care 2).