Wanna get away from milk, but not sure about soy? There’s good news. I have an ancient Chinese recipe. It tastes better than the almond milk at the grocery store.
Soy-milk may well be the most popular and widely-consumed dairy alternative in the world. But it is far from the only plant-based option from China.
Centuries before the Chinese made a habit of soy-milk, they sipped buttermilk and yogurt along with their fritters. Fresh milk, however, was a seasonal product in traditional China. In many places, it was scarce. In response, Chinese cooks came up with ingenious workarounds. In the first century AD, someone figured out they could make “yogurt” from apricot kernels.
Below, I include a recipe for the plant-based “yogurt,” based on a ninth-century household manual. My source, Mr. Han, was an obscure person with influential relatives. He also had a deep interest in practical matters: agriculture, animal husbandry, food preparation, and medicine.
Mr. Han regarded his “yogurt” as more than a sweet treat. He also believed it had medicinal properties. If you add perilla seed and Job’s tear to the “yogurt,” it cures nasty coughs and other respiratory ailments.
In its broad outline, the recipe has changed little since Mr. Han’s day. Modern cooks, however, have made tweaks. They replaced the ghee with milk. Or, in some cases, they omitted the dairy altogether. They switched up the rice. Cooks now use the sticky short grain. They often prefer almonds. Almonds look and taste like apricot kernels, but lack the toxins.
Modern Chinese also share Mr. Han’s belief that apricot kernel is a therapeutic food. They argue that it improves the skin, lubricates the body, and replenishes the lungs.
Whole almonds (or, if you are brave, sweet apricot kernels, available at Asian grocery stores), 1 cup
Sugar or honey, ¼ cup (or to taste)
White rice (uncooked), 1/4 cup
Water, 3 cups
Ghee or butter, 1 teaspoon (optional)
1. Blanch the almonds in hot water for a minute, then rinse and rub off the skins.
2. Soak the almonds and glutinous rice in water overnight (if it is hot, put the mixture in the refrigerator)
3. The next morning, blend the almonds and glutinous rice in a fresh batch of water.
4. Strain the mixture to remove any coarse matter.
5. Add the sugar or honey, then heat the mixture in a pot, simmering until the mixture reduces and thickens (about 20 minutes)
6. Stir in the ghee and allow the mixture to cool just above room temperature. It should have the consistency of a drinkable yogurt.