When it comes to curry, you can’t go wrong with coconut milk. It’s a kitchen staple in Thai cuisine, and it’s one of the ingredients (along with coriander, fish sauce, and shrimp paste) that make Thai dishes taste distinctively. . . Thai.
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In other words, if you want authentic Thai curries, then coconut milk is a must. The ingredient gives curry a nice thick consistency as well as a delicate hint of sweetness that other ingredients can’t truly replicate.
However, I recently ran into a major cooking dilemma when I was trying to recreate the excellent green curry I tasted during my trip to Bangkok a few years ago: I couldn’t find coconut milk anywhere!
How in the world are you supposed to cook authentic Thai curry without this very essential ingredient?
Thankfully, after a lot of research, I found out that you can, in fact, cook Thai curry without coconut milk. Coconut milk is not the end-all and be-all of curry ingredients. For example, here are a few substitutes you can use:
Note: The substitutes listed below assumes that you are replacing approximately one cup of coconut milk. The taste won’t be the same as fresh coconut milk, but they are close enough in flavor that people who don’t usually consume coconut milk wouldn’t even notice the difference.
Substitute For Coconut Milk in Curry: Non-Coconut Based Substitutes
These are substitutes you can use in case there are people who are allergic to coconut (or who have a strong aversion to anything derived from coconuts) in your household.
*Greek yogurt, one cup – A low-calorie substitute for the normally fat-laden coconut milk.
*Cashew or almond paste – Soak a cup of unsalted almonds or cashews overnight, and then blend them in food processor with some milk or water until creamy.
*Low fat cream – Mix half cup of low fat cream with half cup of skim milk. Provides the same type of creaminess as coconut milk, but without the coconut taste.
*Heavy cream or full cream milk, one cup – Heavy cream usually has more calories than coconut milk, but it makes curries extra creamy; however, as cream is flavorless, you can try adding a quarter cup of coconut water to the cream for a little bit of coconut flavor.
*Condensed milk, half cup – As condensed milk is very sweet, use this sparingly. Makes for a great substitute for coconut milk in pina coladas though.
*Evaporated milk, one cup – Simply substitute the evaporated milk for the coconut milk. Note: there’s actually coconut-FLAVORED evaporated milk, which is great if you’re serving someone with coconut allergies.
Substitute For Coconut Milk in Curry: Coconut-Based Substitutes
Anything that involves some form of coconut, whether it is in essence, extract, or other edible forms.
*Instant coconut milk powder, mixed with a half cup of hot water – This product is commonly found in Asian specialty stores and would probably give you the closest taste to fresh coconut milk.
*Coconut water or coconut juice – Lots of coconut taste, but without the creaminess. You can add heavy cream if you want your curry to be creamy.
*Coconut extract – Coconut extract is a versatile coconut milk substitute especially if you add a teaspoon of it to a cup of yogurt or evaporated milk.
Indian Chicken Curry
While this recipe calls for yogurt as a coconut milk substitute, you can actually do without it if you don’t want dairy in your curry. The dish is flavorful enough to stand on its own.
- Two pounds of bone-in chicken
- Vegetable oil, three tablespoons
- Garlic, four cloves, minced
- One small bay leaf
- One cinnamon stick (about two inches)
- Three green cardamoms
- Half teaspoon of cumin
- Two green chilies, slit in half
- One cup of finely chopped onions
- Half cup of tomato puree
- One tablespoon of ginger paste (or finely minced ginger)
- Half teaspoon of turmeric
- One teaspoon of red chili powder (you can adjust the amount according to your spice tolerance)
- Two teaspoons of garam masala
- Handful of chopped fresh coriander leaves
- One cup hot water
- Salt, to taste
1. In a deep pan, fry all of the dry spices in about two to three tablespoons of vegetable oil for about a minute (or until the aroma of the spices is released).
2. Add in the ginger, garlic, and onions, and fry for another minute or two.
3. Then add the tomatoes, turmeric, and salt. Cook until the tomatoes are soft. If you’re using yogurt as a coconut milk alternative, then add it in at this stage along with the red chili powder. Fry and stir everything well until the mixture releases its aroma.
4. Add the chicken, half of the coriander leaves, and garam masala into the pan. Cook until the chicken is cooked (i.e. the meat turns white).
5. Pour in one cup of hot water. Cook over medium flame until the bone falls of the chicken easily and the dish has the consistency of thick gravy. Add remaining coriander leaves as garnish.
6. Serve with rice or chapati.
Easy Green Thai Curry Without Coconut Milk
- Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- One red pepper, sliced
- One zucchini, sliced
- One onion, finely chopped
- Four tablespoons of Thai green curry paste
- One green chili, chopped
- Handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
- One lime
- Coconut milk alternative (you can use any of the substitutes mentioned above, but yogurt mixed with a little bit of milk also works great)
- Salt to taste
- Vegetable oil, for frying
1. Place the chicken breasts inside a ziploc bag with half of the Thai green curry paste. Marinade for about one hour.
2. In a wok or deep pan, heat a little oil and brown the chicken. Add the vegetables after the chicken has been cooked and add the remaining curry paste along with a pinch of salt. Stir fry for about four minutes.
3. Pour in your coconut milk alternative and let simmer for another three minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
4. Serve over rice. Use cilantro as garnish.