by Kate Payne • Photography by Jo Ann Santangelo
Last year, because I was experiencing gastrointestinal issues, my doctor recommended that I remove cow dairy from my diet, and since the breakup with my beloved raw whole milk, I’ve experimented with various dairy-free milks for baking and cooking. Nut milks shook out as my favorite replacement for the various things for which I would normally use cow milk—especially for baking.
Most store-bought nut milks are essentially just watered-down nuts with preservatives and other additives and not really worth the money. Luckily, nut milks are easy to make at home, and useful not only for baking, cooking and drinking, but also for the strained nut meal by-product that results from the pureeing and straining process.
Environmentally speaking, since almonds require a lot of water to produce—1.1 gallons PER NUT, according to a study on California water usage—using and enjoying this power food conscientiously is important. Dehydrating the strained nut meal not only eliminates waste, but the resulting product actually enhances the protein content of baked goods, adds a nutty flavor to hot breakfasts or soups, and acts as a great topping for jam or honey on toast.
It’s possible to make nut milk by simply blending raw nuts in a 2-to-1 water-to-nut ratio, but soaking the nuts overnight will produce creamier milk. Soaking also breaks down the enzyme inhibitors that prevent absorption of nutrients in raw or roasted nuts. Soaking is the early stage of sprouting—or germinating a dried nut, grain or seed into a new plant—and when soaked in water with added sea salt, whey or lemon juice, the nuts kick off an early fermentation process to make the nutrients more bioavailable.
A Vitamix makes the creamiest end result, but a food processor or regular blender will work well, too. Because the food processor will make quite a mess if overfull, blend the following recipes in halves or thirds. I use a wire-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a flour sack dishtowel to strain the milk from the meal. Use a spatula to push all of the liquid from the meal. Sweeten finished milks as desired with honey, maple or agave, and/or flavor them with vanilla extract or ground cinnamon.
To dry the strained nut meal, spread the meal thinly on a dehydrator tray and follow the instructions for dehydrating nuts. It also works to spread the nut meal thinly on a baking sheet and place in an oven set to the lowest temperature (160° if possible, though 200° will also work) with the door cracked open to release moisture and allow drying. Use a food processor or grinder to create a finer meal once dried, if desired. Store completely dried meal in the refrigerator and use when recipes call for nut flours or nut meal.