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Where EAST meets the Northwest

TASTY TACOS. Coconut-Lime Pulled Chicken Tacos is one of many dishes that can be made with coconut milk. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

From The Asian Reporter, V22, #13 (July 2, 2012), page 8.

Coconut milk: What it is and how to use it

By J.M. Hirsch
AP Food Editor

Who knew coconut milk could be so confusing?

It shouldnít be. At heart, itís a delicious liquid made from coconuts (duh!) that can effortlessly add an exotically creamy richness to so many foods. Except that grocers sell about half a dozen different products that go by the same or very similar names. And they arenít interchangeable.

So letís start with what coconut milk isnít.

Coconut water is a hip new drink that is made from the liquid inside coconuts. Drink it, but donít cook with it.

Coconut milk beverage is a sweetened drink made from coconut milk and sugar. Itís usually sold in boxes alongside soy milk.

Coconut cream is a very thick, fatty liquid made from steeping shredded coconut in hot water at a 4:1 ratio. It is sold in cans, usually in the international aisle.

Sweetened cream of coconut is coconut cream that has been (are you ready?) sweetened. Itís intended for cocktails. PiŮa colada anyone?

Coconut milk is the real deal and the one you want for cooking. Coconut milk is made like coconut cream, but with a 1:1 ratio of coconut to water. The result is a thick, pourable product sold in cans in the international aisle.

In Southeast Asia, Africa, and even South America, coconut milk is used in curries, soups (like Thai chicken and coconut), sauces, even sweets, such as rice puddings and some baked goods. In the U.S., we see it most often in curries, cream pies, and puddings.

While it isnít hard to make your own (simmer shredded coconut in water, then drain), letís face it, none of us is going to do that.

Canned coconut milk is widely available and inexpensive. But you will need to stir or shake it. The fatty "cream" will rise to the top of the can over time, creating a dense layer that needs to be mixed back into the watery liquid below.

Following is a recipe using coconut milk. For more ideas, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column on the Food Network website.

* * *

Coconut-Lime Pulled Chicken Tacos

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

2-pound rotisserie chicken

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Zest and juice of 1 lime

Splash hot sauce

Salt and ground black pepper

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Eight 6-inch flour tortillas, warmed

1 small red onion, diced

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced

* * *

Remove the meat from the chicken, then use your fingers to pull any larger chunks into bite-size pieces.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the chicken, coconut milk, cumin, lime zest and juice, and hot sauce. Simmer until heated through and thick. Season the chicken with salt and pepper then remove from the heat. Stir in the cilantro then divide the mixture between the tortillas.

Top each serving with diced onion and avocado. Serve immediately.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 610 calories (290 calories from fat, 48 percent of total calories); 33 g fat (15 g saturated, 0 g trans fats); 100 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 40 g protein; 6 g fiber; 970 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press.

* * *