Growing up in Southern California, I was exposed to foods from around the world – especially fresh, healthy foods. I’m so grateful for that exposure now, because as an adult I am curious about many of my favorite cuisines. I have always leaned toward a plant-based lifestyle, but about 10 years ago I made it official and became vegetarian. I’m constantly trying out traditional recipes and doing a healthier spin on them, or making them plant-based. One really easy swap is using alternatives to dairy.
Non-dairy, plant-based milk products have been growing in popularity for some time now. You can find these dairy alternatives almost everywhere, from your local coffee shop to most grocery stores, and they are available in a variety of sweetened and unsweetened flavors and blends.
One thing I love about plant-based milk is its long shelf life when left unopened. It is important to note that there are both refrigerated and shelf-stable versions, which have different respective lifespans and storage needs (always be sure to check out labels and “best by” dates).
Once opened, both refrigerated and shelf-stable varieties should be kept cold, and the milk typically lasts about a week (much like dairy milk, signs of spoilage include a sour odor or taste, and it also may curdle).
Plain, unsweetened plant-based milk is probably one of the best bets, since it is incredibly versatile. Not only will you cut back on added sugar with this option, you’ll leave room for lots of possibilities in the kitchen.
It seems wasteful to make it through just half the carton before finding that it needs to be tossed out, so I wanted to share some of my favorite “saves.” Here they are (and feel free to experiment, based on your own tastes and preferences):
- Make plant-based milk smoothies. I like mine flavorful and creamy. Lately, my go-to is a banana pumpkin spice smoothie. I combine 1 cup frozen bananas, 1 cup non-dairy milk (plain cashew milk is a great option), 1/2 cup frozen figs, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and a pinch of sea salt in the blender, then process to reach a thick consistency.
- Whip up a veggie soup. Roasted butternut squash or pumpkin, combined in the blender with non-dairy milk, makes a simple and delicious homemade soup. The amount of liquid needed will depend on how thick you like your soup and the power of your blender, so it is best to add milk slowly, until your desired texture is reached. Finish the dish with curry powder and sea salt to taste.This goes nicely with toasted sourdough.
- Try it in cereal. When I make hot cereal, I replace the water with milk. Many plant-based alternatives are rich and creamy, yet low-calorie. If you’re eating a super-healthy ancient grain, the added richness of plant-based milk can make it even more enjoyable.
- Make your own tea, latte or coffee creamer. There are a number of ways to make a tea latte, and I tend toward the simplest – steeping tea, then preparing a half-tea, half-steamed-milk combo. If you like yours with foam, try blending the milk for 30-60 seconds. Want it iced? Fill a glass with cubes, pour your latte over them, and enjoy.
- Bake something to share. When you are making waffles or muffins, non-dairy milk can add a hint of extra flavor. When taking baked goods to school or the office, it’s nice to accommodate vegans and vegetarians by swapping out animal-based ingredients with alternatives that won’t result in a bland taste experience.
Beyond my top five saves, you can easily and readily incorporate plant-based milk into curries, banana “nice cream,” coconut rice or vegan cheese sauces. Again, be creative.
Just as with the shelf-life requirements, it is really important to check the ingredients list. Sometimes a combination of nuts are used, which could be a concern for people with specific food allergies.
Some brands may label their product as a beverage rather than milk, and this often means the drink will have a high water content, which may impact its flavor and fullness.
Also, since I primarily buy non-dairy milk in cartons, I wanted to explore repurpose/reuse options for the containers. I admit, I was a bit stumped. So if you have any really cool repurposing ideas for the cartons, I’d love to hear them (contact Fifi at firstname.lastname@example.org).