As much as I worship the seasonal and the fresh when it comes to ingredients, there are a handful of canned products that are sacred in my kitchen. Coconut milk is one of them.
The creamy yet dairy-free foundation of so many dishes, it adds its subtly sweet flavor and richness to countless curries and stews, soups and pilafs, and makes for a stunning hot chocolate with an inimitable perfume.
Given how much I rely on it now (and increasingly so, as more people in my life give up dairy), there was a time not so long ago when coconut milk was strictly a do-it-yourself affair. Supermarkets stocked cloying cream of coconut for piña coladas, but not the unsweetened stuff that’s thankfully ubiquitous today.
If I wanted to make, say, Julie Sahni’s malai murgh (chicken in creamed coconut sauce) from her cookbook, “Classic Indian Cooking,” I had to start with a whole, mature coconut.