Dairy-free milks are all the rage, increasingly available on conventional grocery shelves, and super tasty. So whether you are lactose intolerant or just enjoy a ‘happier’ tummy without dairy, plant-based milks made from nuts, soy, rice, oat or coconut are all healthy alternatives to try.
When it comes to nut milks, nuts and water are all that they should contain. Unfortunately that’s rarely how the ingredients list on most nut-milk cartons read. In addition to nuts and water, there is often a litany of other less desirable additions. Supplements are added to boost flavour and enhance sweetness, while other ingredients are used to thicken and emulsify the liquids. Pure unadulterated nut milks are by far the superior option and they’re remarkably simple to make yourself. It’s a three-step process: soak, blend, strain – hey presto!
When choosing which nuts to use as your base flavour, there are extensive tasty options. Almond milk is easily the most popular and versatile milk, but your choice is as wide as the selection of nuts you can find in your local shop. Your nut milk will retain the distinctive flavour of the nut you choose so have fun experimenting with your favourites: pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts and macadamia nuts all work well. Don’t forget about seeds either. You can make delicious milks out of hemp, sunflower, flax, pumpkin and sesame seeds in exactly the same way.
Here are my three easy steps later for the creamiest ‘milk’.
- Measure three cups of raw nuts into a large bowl (one cup of whole nuts produces roughly three cups of milk), and cover them with water – room temperature or cold – to a level at least 2.5cm above the nuts. Cover the bowl with cling film and soak the nuts in the refrigerator until they noticeably swell. I usually do this before I go to bed and let the nuts soak overnight. Between eight and twelve hours is ideal, but three hours will also work.
- Drain the nuts thoroughly and give them a good rinse under cold running water to remove any residue. Place the rinsed nuts in a high-powered blender or food processor and add three cups of cold or room-temperature water. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to do this in a few batches. If you want to add additional flavours, now is the time to do this. I often add a teaspoon or two of ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, or ginger and a splash of pure vanilla extract – or even a whole vanilla pod (chopped), if you have one handy. Others also like to add a few dates or a pinch of Himalayan salt. None of these added ingredients is absolutely necessary, but they’re fun if you want to test your culinary creativity. Once you’ve included any extras, turn the dial up and whizz the ingredients together until they are completely puréed and smooth.
- Now you have to strain the puréed liquid to create a milk-like consistency. Because of the grit from the nut pulp, the act of straining – which usually takes about 5 minutes – is a very important step in the process, otherwise there will be chunks and sharp bits in your milk. Pour the contents of your blender through a sieve lined with muslin, cheesecloth or a tea towel, or strain it through a proper ‘nut milk bag’. The latter is by far the best option and easily purchased on the internet. Fill your bag or strainer with the purée and gently squeeze and press the liquid through it. Sometimes it is helpful to press the purée with a spatula to ensure you extract all the precious milk from the pulp.
Your finished milk should have the smooth consistency of full-fat dairy milk, but if you are more accustomed to the lighter texture of skimmed milk, just add a little water to it. The milk will stay fresh for up to five days if you store it properly in the refrigerator. I use Kilner (or Mason) jars to store mine because they keep the milks tightly sealed, plus the milk naturally separates so it is helpful to be able to give it a good shake before use.
You can either discard the nut pulp or, ideally, experiment with a few easy recipes so that it’s not wasted. I love to combine a cup of the pulp with jumbo oats, coconut flakes and chopped dried fruit, spread it on a non-stick baking sheet and place it in the oven for 15 minutes at 170ºC to make granola. Or mix the pulp with finely chopped dates, a few tablespoons of almond butter, shredded coconut, cinnamon and nutmeg – then roll them into balls to make yummy raw cookies. Even easier is to add a few tablespoons of the pulp to porridges, smoothies or cookie batters, sprinkle it on cereal and salads, or simply freeze it for when you have more time.