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Nut milk is hot right now, and easy to make

Published: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 9, 2014 2:20 p.m. CDT
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(MCT News Service)
Choosing milk for your morning cereal or coffee used to be pretty simple: skim, low-fat or whole. These days, though, market shelves and refrigerators are crowded with an array of alternatives: soy, almond (shown), rice, hemp, and rice and more.
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(MCT News Service)
Hazelnut rice pudding with orange and dark chocolate.
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(MCT News Service)
Almond shortbread with cacao nibs.
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(MCT News Service)
Macadamia nuts make an extra smooth and creamy milk, perfect when substituting for dairy in a rich mushroom bisque.

Nuts. And water. That’s really all there is to nut milk.

Maybe you’ve noticed all the dairy-free milk brands vying for attention at your local market. Nut milks – and other plant-based milks such as soy, rice and even coconut – are hot right now. Whether you’re lactose intolerant or have perhaps “consciously uncoupled” yourself from dairy, plant-based alternatives are a growing market for both health- and fad-related reasons.

But have you bothered to check the back of the box?

In addition to nuts and water, you’ll most likely find a litany of additional ingredients. Some are added to lend flavoring and/or sweetness, others to fortify the milk with vitamins and minerals. Some, like seaweed-derived carrageenan, are added to thicken and emulsify the milk, while still others work as preservatives to extend shelf life.

It was enough to make me wonder how hard it would be to just make it myself.

Believe it or not, homemade nut milk is incredibly simple: Soak nuts, blend and strain. Voila.

There are plenty of recipes for nut milks available on the Internet, but the method is basic: Take raw nuts and immerse them in a bowl of water. Soak the nuts until they’re noticeably plump (kind of like soaking raisins), at least several hours and up to a day or so. Drain the water and give the nuts a good rinse, then place them in a blender with fresh water and blend away to your heart’s content.

When the nuts are pureed, strain the liquid. Because of the fine grit from the nut pulp, the liquid will need to be carefully strained. Several layers of cheesecloth over a mesh strainer work well, as does a tea towel. But the best thing I’ve found is something called a nut milk bag (yes, that’s the name, and it can easily be found on the Internet). Fill the bag with puree and gently squeeze the liquid out; the bag works wonders at removing the grit to give the milk a nice, smooth texture.

After the liquid is strained, adjust the consistency with additional liquid to suit your taste. Most methods I’ve seen call for a ratio of 1 cup of nuts to 3 or 4 cups water. I personally prefer one pound of nuts (a little over three cups) to around six cups of water for a nut milk similar in consistency to whole dairy milk. To create a “cream,” allow a little of the finer grit in with the milk and reduce the water for a thicker consistency.

Because homemade nut milk will naturally separate over time, store it in a container with a tight-fitting lid so you can give it a good shake before using. Once it’s made, the milk will keep, refrigerated, for three to five days.

As for the leftover pulp, save it. You can use it in so many things. Flavor the pulp and use it as a spread, add it to a shake or fold it in with pancake batters or dips. Or simply spread the pulp out and slowly dry it in a low oven to make nut meal.

I recently used some dried-out almond meal in cookies. For a batch of sables, I combined coconut oil, almond meal, sugar, flour and cacao nibs, rolling the crumbly dough into a log. After slicing and baking, I took a bite of a still-warm cookie. Rich, with a sable’s signature “sandy” texture, one might never guess the cookie was dairy-free. And vegan. Perfect for my health- and fad-conscious friends.

Variety of nut milk flavors

Almond is by far the most popular nut milk around, but why stop there? I loved experimenting with hazelnut and pistachio milks, neither of which you’re likely to find at the store. And macadamia nuts make an extra smooth and creamy milk, perfect when substituting for dairy in a rich mushroom bisque.

Flavorings and sweeteners are easy to add to homemade milks, though I’d recommend against them if you plan to use the milk in savory recipes. Toss a little vanilla or spice in the blender with the nuts when you’re ready to puree, or sweeten with dates, honey, agave or maple syrup.

Basic Nut Milk and Cream

15 minutes, plus soaking time. Makes about 5 cups milk.

Ingredients:

1 pound raw, shelled nuts

Directions:

1. Place the nuts in a bowl and cover with 2 inches of water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to soak at least one night, preferably two.

2. Drain the nuts and rinse under cold water. Place the nuts in a high-speed blender (this will need to be done in a couple of batches) and add enough water to cover by an inch. Puree until completely smooth.

3. To make nut milk, pass the nuts and liquid through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer. You can squeeze the bag or work with a spatula to make sure you get as much of the liquid as you can. The final “milk” should have the smooth consistency of whole dairy milk; if desired, add water to thin. This makes about 5 cups nut milk (consistency will depend on the type of nut and amount of water added while blending, and can vary from just over 4 cups to around 8 cups or more, depending on desired consistency).

To make nut cream, after blending the nuts, pass the nuts through a strainer to weed out any coarse bits (eliminating the cheesecloth or use of a nut milk bag will allow more solids to pass through to thicken the cream). This makes about 6 cups cream. The strained liquid should have the consistency of heavy cream.

4. The nut milk or cream will keep for up to five days, covered and refrigerated. The nut milk or cream will naturally separate; simply give it a quick stir or shake to reconstitute before using.

Each 1/2 cup Nut Milk from Almonds

Calories 84

Protein 3 grams

Carbohydrates 3 grams

Fiber 1 gram

Fat 7 grams

Saturated fat 1 gram

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 1 grams

Sodium 7 mg

Each 1/4 Cup Nut Cream from Almonds

Calories 107

Protein 4 grams

Carbohydrates 4 grams

Fiber 3 grams

Fat 9 grams

Saturated fat 1 gram

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 1 gram

Sodium 1 mg

NOTE: Keep the discarded nut meal after straining, as it can be used in a variety of ways (including adding to oatmeal, yogurt, dips or soups, as well as using the dried meal in tart or pie crusts, cookies or fillings). To dry the meal, spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a 250-degree oven for a few hours, stirring occasionally, until the excess moisture is evaporated.

Vegan Hazelnut Rice Pudding with Orange and Dark Chocolate

45 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup short-grain rice, preferably Arborio

3 cups water

3 cups hazelnut milk, more as needed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican (canela)

Zest from 1/2 orange, cut in large strips

1/2 cup vegan brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shaved vegan dark chocolate, for garnish

Directions:

1. Rinse the rice several times until the water runs clear. In a large saucepan, combine the water and hazelnut milk with the salt, cinnamon stick and zest, and bring to a simmer over high heat.

2. Place the rice in a separate heavy saucepan. Stir in 2 cups of the simmering nut milk and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the rice has absorbed almost all the liquid.

3. Continue cooking the rice as you would a risotto, adding the nut milk, a ladleful at a time, as the rice begins to swell and absorb the liquid. When the rice is almost tender, stir in the brown sugar and vanilla extract. Continue cooking, stirring frequently to make sure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn, 25 to 30 minutes total. The finished rice will be thick and creamy.

4. Move the rice to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed flat against the surface (this will prevent a skin from forming). Refrigerate until chilled, and serve garnished with shaved dark chocolate.

Each of 6 servings

Calories 185

Protein 2 grams

Carbohydrates 40 grams

Fiber 1 gram

Fat 2 grams

Saturated fat 0

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 25 grams

Sodium 259 mg

NOTE: Sugar is often processed using animal bone char, which is unacceptable to many vegans. This recipe calls for vegan brown sugar (animal-free processing) and vegan dark chocolate, both of which are generally available at health food markets as well as online.

Vegan Mushroom Bisque

50 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, more if needed

3/4 pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced, stems discarded

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/3 cup Madeira, sherry or similar vegan-friendly red wine

3 cups vegetable broth, more if desired

2 cups macadamia or cashew cream

Chopped chives, for garnish

White truffle oil, for garnish

Directions:

1. Heat a wide, heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven over high heat until hot. Add the vegetable oil, then half the mushrooms. The mushrooms will immediately begin to sizzle. Cook quickly, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms begin to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. The mushrooms should cook quickly enough that they brown before they give up any moisture; this will give them a nice nutty flavor. Remove from heat and spread the mushrooms onto a plate to cool. Cook the remaining mushrooms the same way, adding a little additional oil if needed. Remove from heat and add to the first batch of mushrooms, seasoning with one-half teaspoon salt and one-fourth teaspoon pepper.

2. In the same pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent and browned slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, an additional minute or so. Add the wine and cook, scraping any flavoring from the base of the pan.

3. Add 3 cups vegetable broth and half the mushrooms. Once the soup comes to a simmer, remove from heat and puree using an immersion or stand blender. Return the soup to the pot and whisk in the macadamia or cashew cream. Stir in the remaining mushrooms and bring to a bare simmer, stirring frequently. Taste, and add three-fourths teaspoon each salt and pepper, or as desired.

4. Continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes to marry the flavors. The soup will thicken as it cooks; adjust the consistency with additional broth or water as desired. This makes a scant 2 quarts soup.

5. Taste, and adjust the seasonings again if needed. Serve the bisque garnished with chopped chives and a drizzle of truffle oil.

Each of 8 servings, without garnish

Calories 223

Protein 3 grams

Carbohydrates 10 grams

Fiber 3 grams

Fat 19 grams

Saturated fat 2 grams

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 5 grams

Sodium 181 mg

NOTE: Animal-derived ingredients are sometimes used in the filtering process when making wine; vegan-friendly wines are available at most wine stores as well as online.

Vegan Almond Sable Cookies with Cacao Nibs

45 minutes, plus cooling time. Makes about 1 1/2 dozen cookies.

Ingredients:

2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil, at room temperature

1/3 cup vegan sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup almond meal

1 cup (41/4 ounces) flour

1/2 cup cacao nibs

Directions:

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the coconut oil, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract and salt until well combined, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. By hand, stir in the almond meal and flour until thoroughly incorporated. Use your hands if needed to knead the ingredients, still in the bowl, together to form a uniform dough. Stir or knead in the cacao nibs.

3. Form the dough into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter, and roll in a sheet of plastic wrap (the dough will be crumbly, and the plastic wrap will keep each cookie in place as it is sliced). If the dough is too soft to slice, refrigerate the log to firm it up, 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the log, still in the plastic wrap to support the dough, crosswise into slices one-fourth-inch thick. Remove any pieces of plastic wrap and space the slices 11/2 to 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Tip: Rotate the log one quarter-turn in between slices to keep the round shape of the cookies as they are sliced.

5. Bake the cookies until set and very lightly colored, 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the cookies halfway through for even baking.

6. Place the baking sheets on a rack and cool the cookies completely before removing.

Each of 18 servings

Calories 177

Protein 2 grams

Carbohydrates 11 grams

Fiber 2 grams

Fat 14 grams

Saturated fat 10 grams

Cholesterol 0

Sugar 4 grams

Sodium 33 mg

NOTE: Sugar is often processed using animal bone char, which is unacceptable to many vegans. This recipe calls for vegan sugar (animal-free processing), which is generally available at health food markets, as well as online.

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©2014 Los Angeles Times

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