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Fresh from the plant: Nut milk is popular, easy to make

  • Los Angeles Times
  • Published Monday, April 14, 2014, at 1:04 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, April 16, 2014, at 5:42 a.m.

Photos

BASIC NUT MILK AND CREAM

15 minutes, plus soaking time.

Makes about 5 cups milk

1 pound raw, shelled nuts

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): 84 calories, 3 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 1 grams sugar, 7 mg sodium

Each 1/4 cup nut cream (from almonds): 107 calories, 4 grams protein, 4 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 9 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 1 gram sugar, 1 mg sodium

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.

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

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: 185 calories, 2 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 2 grams fat, 0 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 25 grams sugar, 259 mg sodium

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.

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.

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.

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