Nuts for Milk

Remember not too long ago when children had to drink a glass of milk with every meal? The industry labeled milk the "perfect food," as it has protein, vitamin D, calcium and other nutritional benefits. Those days are long gone and what a relief.

Because I was born allergic to milk, this reality impeded my relationship early on. Every time I would sneak some chocolate or eat something made with milk, I would break out into a rash on my inner arms. It would itch relentlessly for hours, but that never thwarted my affection for foods made with milk.

Though my allergies eventually evaporated into thin air, my affinity for these ingredients did not. What goes better with a warm chocolate chip cookie than a cold glass of milk? Adding a generous splash of milk or cream to a hot bowl of oatmeal provides even more texture and richness to set a new day in motion. One of the reasons I have never been able to maintain a 100% plant-based diet is because I could not imagine life without cheese and you can't make cheese without milk.

But with the rise of allergy issues and environmental awareness, the food world comes up with more creative ways to feed the growing demand for those with allergies as well as prophets of vegan and plant-based lifestyles.

There now exists a bevy of alternative milk options, including nut-milks (like cashew, almond and macadamia) and plant-based milks, such as hemp seed, coconut. tahini, rice and pea milk. I have tried them all. Some are watery and some are gritty and they most options feature an ugly ingredient called carageenan, which we don't want, so I have been making my own plant-based and nut milks for quite a few years which requires time and special tools.

Traditional almond milk requires an overnight soak and a nut bag to properly strain the almonds from the white milky liquid. Cashew milk is easier to make, quicker and much more luxurious. Once the cashews soak in water (for about two hours) they soften and blend into the liquid completely so no straining is required. Hemp seed and coconut seed milks also don't require straining and are pretty simple to make, tend to have less flavor and can be a flexible canvas for making other things.

The inventive way I made almond milk today was a game changer. A hack. Brilliant. And it took only a minute to pull together. It was so impressive, I will likely never make almond milk any other way and I am grateful to Food52 for sharing this tip which they found in a new cookbook, The First Mess.

What makes this almond milk so intoxicating? Almond butter is the secret ingredient. That's right, not raw almonds but almond butter.

Add a few tablespoons to water, along with a tiny bit of salt, a touch of natural sweetener and vanilla and blend until it's creamy and gorgeous and frothy and boom! In less than a minute, the combination of water and rich, thick almond butter delivers an impressively complex, toasty-colored almond milk that promises to be a staple in your refrigerator. It's so much more well-developed in flavor than the watery grocery store almond milk, and like me, you'll wish you had learned this trick sooner.

Feeling bold? Add a cup of strawberries for a sweet spring-like strawberry almond milk or toss in a tablespoon (or two) of cacao powder for a chocolate almond milk. Blend in a banana for a luxurious banana almond milk and go green with a teaspoon of matcha for an energizing matcha almond milk.

If there is a nut allergy, simply substitute sunflower seed butter for almond butter. Curiously, I ventured here as well and this combination results in an even richer nut milk that could easily make a morning cup of coffee an exhilarating (and dairy-free) way to start the day.

The varieties are endless, the recipe is downright simple and you'll never have to strain your milk or sip carageenan again.

Buen provecho!
Easy Vanilla Almond Milk
The Cowgirl Gourmet gives credit to Food52 for this brilliant trick who got their inspiration from The First Mess cookbook

Print recipe

Homemade almond milk can be a pain to make. It requires soaking nuts overnight and then you have to strain the blended nuts from the nut milk which can be pretty messy. Toss the nut bag aside and forget about that complicated method. All you need is some almond butter, water and a blender and a toasty and deliciously flavorful almond milk (without carageenan) is yours to enjoy with little to no effort. Feel free to add seasonal fruit. Strawberries come to mind as does the idea of adding cacao powder to make a nutritious chocolate almond milk.

Makes 1 quart

6 tablespoons almond butter (or for those with nut allergies, replace with sunflower seed butter for an equally rich plant-based milk)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 dates, pitted (or 2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Place all ingredients into a high-powered blender, like a Vitamix, and blend for at least a minute on high-speed until smooth and creamy.

If you like a warm milk, drink immediately or pour into a jar and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Add to smoothies, pour over granola or go retro and sip a glass of homemade almond milk when you have your next meal.

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