For those of us who have an allergy or an intolerance to milk, eating or drinking many tasty creamy delights that normal people can have can prove difficult to consume, even with allergy and digestive pills. This means, no cheese, yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, cheesecake,…. You get the idea. As more people are discovering their own digestive intolerance and allergies, more options are becoming available in grocery stores and restaurants. At the same time, recipes for dairy alternatives are being perfected with improved colors, flavors and textures. Thank goodness there are so many food enthusiasts excited about experimenting with ingredients! For instance, I have seen all sorts of non-dairy milk and cheese alternatives in stores and online, such as various cultured and non-cultured goodies made from hazelnuts, hemp seeds, coconuts, oats, rice, sweet potatoes, etc. The process of making special milk is pretty easy and is usually much cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make your own than buy it (processed with bonus additives) from the store, even if you buy organic ingredients. Making and drinking milk alternatives is so popular, the comedy television show, “Portlandia” (which is on Netflix right now), has even featured several hilarious spoof PSAs by the “Portland Milk Advisory Board” regarding different types of milk, including zucchini milk and berry seed milk (jam).

You can make the milks as thick or as concentrated as you like, although the methods depend on the ingredients used. Also depending on the nut and how you process it, like cashew milk can turn purple and pumpkin seed milk will turn green if they have their inner skins still attached. You can also flavor or sweeten them however you like. Some nuts, like almonds are naturally sweet, so they don’t require a lot of sugar. Others, however, may need a bit of help if they have a natural bitterness, like walnuts do. I like rice milk, but it’s very low in nutrients and is not raw (none of the store-bought milks are). Sweetened rice milk is fine and dandy for horchata, but I would rather make something with more protein and less sugar (I like to dilute restaurant-style horchata by half usually or at least wait until the ice melts, so I don’t feel like I’m drinking liquid candy). What I don’t want to do though is destroy the proteins in the nut milk by boiling water to concentrate it. I did read somewhere that milk concentration in a dehydrator is the preferred method to preserve the proteins and amino acids, but excess water can also be steamed off by simmering the milk in a pan over the stove, constantly stirring and frequently measuring the temperature to prevent the milk from reaching over 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

The method of making alternative milks is pretty much the same no matter what you use. From what I gather, the first step is to prepare the seed (grain, nut or otherwise) into an edible form. See my blog entry on preparing nuts and seeds. (If you are working with grains or root vegetables, you have to cook them first). Blend the nuts, seeds, etc. with water; I recommend a high speed blender, like my Vitamix. Generally you want a ratio between a one to two and a one to four parts of nuts to water. According to Sarma Melngailis in her book, “Living Raw Food,” if you do not have nuts, seeds or what-have-you to grind up with the water, you can mix the water with nut or seed butter instead; Amanda Mercer’s alternative recipe uses 1/16 or 1/48 to 1 parts ratio (for instance one tablespoon almond butter to one cup water for thick milk or one teaspoon nut butter to one cup water for thin milk). Strain the milk through a fine mesh, like cheese cloth or a special nut milk bag; I bought mine at the Santa Rosa Community Market. Some nut pulp can be blended and strained to make a couple more milk batches, depending on the desired flavor intensity and thickness.

At this point, you can sweeten the milk (with stevia, agave, honey or dates just to name a few); there’s a wide variety to choose from depending on what flavor profile you want. You can flavor the milk with alcohol-free extracts (vanilla or almond), spices (such as ginger, chai spices, pie spices, cinnamon or cacao nibs) or cooled infusions (like herbal tea). Adjust the richness of the milk if you like by adding oils or butters, like those of coconut.

Cashew Milk
Cashew milk is great not only for cereals and smoothies and other normal milk uses, but is also great in making desserts, sauces and cultured non-dairy cheeses. This milk has a pleasing rich creaminess from the natural oils contained in the nuts.

Yields 6 cups

Ingredients
2 C Prepared Cashews
6 C Filtered Water
1 Pinch Sea Salt

Directions
Process the nuts, salt and water until the nut meal is fine and the milk opaque; the nuts can’t be over-blended. Place the nut milk bag or filtering fabric over a large clean container, like spouted glass measuring cup. Strain the mixture through fabric into the container, making sure to carefully squeeze the pulp within the fabric to release more liquid but without letting the pulp squish through. (Cashews can grind down to a very fine meal, and silty cashew milk is an unwanted and unpleasant surprise. So be careful not to squeeze too hard.) Set the pulp aside.

Notes:
Store the milk in clean, sealed non-reactive jugs or jars in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.
Reserve the pulp for another batch of milk soon, or dehydrate the almond meal to use later.
You can also freeze the milk into cubes to melt in hot tea or coffee or make into ice cream.

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