Happy Friday everyone! This week seems to have shot by alarmingly fleet(ing)ly. We have some beautiful weather up here in Alaska these last two days: it's actually gotten up to 60 degrees! So funny to think that that used to be the bottom of my range, and now I'm thrilled with it. Yesterday was an interesting day - I went to court! I'll talk more about that maybe tomorrow, but for today, I'll carry on with the recipe series 'theme and variations.'
Last week I started a new series of posts based on the observation that staple recipes usually consist of a 'theme' with endless 'variations.' Last week I talked about 'barks'/'fudges' - still looking for a good name for those, by the way.
This week, it's nut milks. When I first learned about these, about twelve years ago, I was amazed that they weren't in more common use, since they're so simple and so very good. It turns out that they used to be much more commonly used - look at any highbrow European recipe from the Middle Ages and it's highly likely to feature 'milk of almonds.'
As simple and delicious as they are, they are also almost infinitely variable. The fibrous, lower fat seeds like flax and chia don't have the requisite creaminess, but any other nut or seed commonly available can be used for making nut milk. And you can also use a combination of two or more - and flax and chia do work in combination with others, which is a handy way to correct the omega-3 to -6 ratio, since besides hemp seeds and walnuts, all other nuts and seeds are overbalanced in favor of omega-6. (More on this in my article for this month's 'Eighty Percent Raw' magazine.)
The basic method is to soak the nuts, rinse (discarding the soak water) and then blend with fresh water until thoroughly pulverized. Then strain through a cheesecloth or mesh bag, blend again with more water if you like, and that's it. If you have a high-powered blender (vitamix, blendtec), sometimes you don't even need to strain it. I just have a little hand blender and have managed to blend even small seeds into milk, provided that they've been well soaked and that I add the liquid just a little at at time. And I am ready for a high-powered blender, o universe!
However, besides the plethora of potential permutations simply by varying the nuts and seeds used, there are so many other variables. Some people love to add sweetener, which can be dates, honey, agave, stevia, xylitol. Some people also love to add a pinch of sea or rock salt. Vanilla is a popular flavoring, or one can go beyond the simple 'milk' and add a chai spice flavoring, or cacao powder, mint leaves or essence. Or use herbal tea or other flavored liquid instead of water. Another permutation is the ratio of nuts/seeds to liquid. Looking around, the general recommended ratio is 1 part nuts/seeds to 3 or 4 parts water, so 1/3 or 1/4cup of nuts/seeds per cup of water; a quart of milk would use a cup of nuts or so. I have to be aware that it's part of my stinginess with myself that my milks use a far smaller amount - around a half cup of nuts/seeds per quart - and then I always dilute the milk again with tea!
Another question is the homogenization issue. I like to add a tablespoon of lecithin to the recipe to ensure that the milk doesn't separate. However, I've noticed - but don't know the reason - that some milks are more 'separation prone' than others. For example, I forgot to put the lecithin in a batch of milk that was mostly sunflower seeds with a few filberts, and it separated. But I recently forgot it in a batch of mostly walnut milk with a few brazil nuts and hempseeds, and it stayed pretty much homogenized. I did add some lecithin in by hand afterwards and shake it, but it didn't blend in and just settled to the bottom, so it's not clear that it was much help. It's possible that the walnut/hemp mix was fattier, and therefore homogenized better. But sunflower seeds are a natural source of lecithin, so one might have thought that they'd be good at homogenizing too!
My current recipe is:
2 T xylitol (a sugar alcohol derived from birch trees that has antifungal properties)
1 T lecithin
1 quart water
Sometimes a pinch of ground vanilla bean or a shake of cinnamon
I have made: almond milk, filbert milk, brazil nut milk, walnut milk, pecan milk,coconut milk (using shredded coconut), sunflower seed milk, sesame milk, hemp milk, pumpkin seed milk, and many combinations of these. Generally, I think that pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds have a rather savory flavor on their own, but taste great when combined with nuts, especially brazil nuts and filberts.
Some favorite combinations:
My current favorite: walnut-brazil-hemp - since I've been so depressed lately I'm trying to make sure I get in more omega-3's, as well as the selenium that the brazil nuts provide. Walnuts are probably my favorite nut at the moment anyway (although I can hardly eat them unless they've been soaked, that tannin hurts a girl's mouth! - but I'm fine to soak them).
Why haven't I made it from macadamia nuts or cashews or pine nuts? These are the three most commonly used nuts in rich gourmet recipes. They are the nuts that are creamy enough and low-fiber enough that if you have a high-powered blender you could probably get away without even having to strain the milk. Well, I'm not eating cashews at the moment because they're generally cautioned against if you're cleansing yeast - ditto for pistachios and peanuts. I've made pine nut milk before and it's delicious but very strong. - would be better in combination with something else. And pine nuts are unbelievably expensive here so I just haven't been buying them. Mac nuts: we're hopefully getting a load of them soon from a small farm in Hawaii owned by some friends of ours. But Phil loves them so much that I'd rather just keep them for him to eat.
What's your favorite nut milk? Do you use lecithin or another emulsifier?