Whether you have half a can or just a couple tablespoons, here's how you can put it to good use.
Photo: Getty Images
| Credit: Getty Images

I recently started an ongoing cooking experiment in which I replace the heavy cream called for in various recipes with coconut milk. This endeavor began after a few friends asked me how could they supplement heavy cream in recipes for dairy-free alternative without totally compromising the texture and flavor. The results, thus far, have generally been surprisingly pleasant. Coconut milk seems to hold its own compared to heavy cream in terms of rich creaminess. However, since starting this experiment, I’m continually finding myself with half-emptied cans of coconut milk hanging out in my refrigerator. Instead of throwing it out, I wanted to find more creative ways to use the remnant amounts of this delectable tropical liquid before it spoiled. So I’ve started to use coconut milk in just about everything that I cook for a hint of warming richness, thanks to the nut milk’s natural source of fatty acids.

Just FYI, when I say "coconut milk" here, I'm referring to the shelf-stable canned product you'll find on the international aisle in your supermarket. You don't want to confuse canned coconut milk with the stuff in a carton; coconut milk sold in cartons alongside other refrigerated milks is better enjoyed on cereal and is not typically used for cooking. The carton milk is diluted with water and has additional ingredients, such as sugar, that can affect the intended flavor of your food.

Now, here are a few ways I’m particularly loving right now to use leftover canned coconut milk in your everyday cooking:


The standard rice-to-water ratio is 1 cup white rice to 2 cups water. Instead, replace about a little less than half of the water with coconut milk and bring to a boil and cook the rice as you normally would. The addition of coconut milk gives rice a heavenly fragrant aroma, a delicate nutty sweetness, and makes it extra fluffy.

Oatmeal and Chia Bowls

It’s no secret that oatmeal in the morning can give you that much needed boost to power through a busy work day. And this heart-healthy carbohydrate becomes a lot more exciting with the addition of coconut milk stirred in as a non-dairy alternative to traditional cow’s milk. Same goes for making chia bowls, you can soak chia seeds in coconut milk overnight and the seed will expand into a tasty, gelatinous pudding by the next morning.


Freeze coconut milk in ice cube trays and toss the frozen cubes into your blender for the most velvety smoothie in the history of smoothies. Go ahead and go coconut-crazy by using a splash of coconut water to help smoothly break down the cubes and fruits.

Soups and Stews

Break out your Instant Pot or slow cooker, and get ready to go next level on your warm, brothy masterpieces. Coconut milk adds a rich level of flavor intrigue to soups/stews that you might not have even known you needed. Anything tomato-based or heavily spiced with turmeric is the perfect conduit for coconut milk. If you are making a creamy, pureed vegetable soup and want to make it vegan-friendly (but still hearty and opulent), coconut milk is the ideal dairy replacement.

Dairy-Free Bechamel

Toss your spiralized veggies or pasta into a vegan-friendly white sauce swapping the milk fat from heavy cream with coconut. Start your sauce with a basic roux in a saucepan, which is some sort of cooking fat mixed with flour; in this case, you’ll probably want to use olive oil or coconut oil, instead of traditional butter. When the flour turns into a sticky paste, pour in the coconut milk to loosen the roux, and season with salt and black pepper (or any other spices you want). Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, and you will have an effortlessly delicious sauce within minutes. You can use water or vegetable stock to change thin out the consistency as needed.