Coconut milk, made from shredded, fresh coconut that's simmered in water and strained, is a staple in Asian and African dishes such as curries and soup. It's available in cans at the grocery store (check the Asian section), unless you're feeling especially ambitious and want to try making it yourself.
Coconut-Carrot Red Curry Soup
Jen Mindell, executive chef at Avalon (2916 W. Main St., 353-9709) , says she first made this soup when working for a French restaurant in Vermont. "The chef wanted something vegan that wasn't gimmicky or to the exclusion of omnivores," she says. In the wintertime, Mindell adds, "root vegetables are plentiful, inexpensive and extra delicious, which means it's purée soup season. There are so many variations on the theme — roots and aromatics buzzed to a velvety texture — but this is one of my favorites." Besides carrots, "which make for an awesome color and texture," the soup could be made with parsnips, sweet potatoes or butternut squash, she says.
4 cups of Spanish onions, diced
4 tablespoons of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of ginger, minced
2 tablespoons of oil
1 tablespoon of salt (or to taste)
3 quarts of carrots, peeled and diced
Vegetable broth (enough to cover the carrots)
2 tablespoons of Thai red curry paste
3 cans (14 ounces each) of Thai coconut milk (not low-fat)
Lemon juice to taste
Heat the oil in a large stockpot until it's hot but not smoking. Add the onions and leave them alone for a minute to get a little char. Add the salt, stir and reduce the heat to medium low. Add the garlic and ginger, and let the mixture sweat for 10 minutes, or until it's translucent.
Add the carrots and enough broth to cover. Bring the mix to a boil and let it simmer until the carrots are tender enough to crush with a fork.
Loosen the curry paste by mixing it in a bowl with a bit of hot water. Add this and the coconut milk to the soup.
Purée in small batches in a blender (no more than half full). Season with lemon juice and additional salt to taste and more curry if you like it hot.
Garnish with basil, scallions, peanuts or bean sprouts — all of them are good!
No dairy needed
In this month's recipe from chef Jen Mindell, coconut milk adds richness and creaminess to the soup — something that both vegans and nonvegans can appreciate. "When cooking meat- and dairy-free, I always say I'm cooking for everyone, not just people with special diets," she says. "The point is to highlight what is there, not what isn't. If you can make simple ingredients sing, that's just straight-up good cookin'!"
Use in moderation
Though a good source of iron, manganese, copper, phosphorus, vitamin C, protein and dietary fiber, coconut milk is also high in saturated fat and calories. Lower-fat versions are available, but they're not as rich.