I wanted to start making my own almond milk because I felt bad about all the packaging from store-bought milks, but the homemade kind is also much more delicious, healthier and cheaper than pretty much any store-bought milk. Plus, I can get all the ingredients from the local farmers market, so I can feel extra greener-than-thou. My family drinks it so fast I've been making it every few days, but fortunately it's pretty easy to make.
Almond milk has been around since at least the Middle Ages, when it was popular instead of cow's milk, which would spoil quickly unless turned into cheese or butter. It can be used exactly like cow's milk in just about anything--cereal, coffee, or dunking chocolate chip cookies.
Almonds should be soaked at least 8 hours or overnight, which makes them easier to digest by neutralizing the tannins and enzyme-inhibitors (which make nutrients less absorbable) in the brown skins. Plus, it softens the almonds which is easier on your blender. You probably could substitute nearly any nut or seed for the almonds--I've had superb results with hazelnuts. If you replace the soaking water daily, the nuts can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.
The ratio of nuts to water is also highly variable: if you want a really creamy milk, use 1 1/3 cup almonds for every four cups water, whereas 1/2 cup almonds for every four cups water creates something closer to skim milk. For all-purpose milk I usually use around 2/3 cup almonds.
You can strain nut milks with cheesecloth, but if you plan to make them often I would invest in a nut-milk bag, which are inexpensive, convenient, and reusable. You'll be left with a flavorless nut pulp which I compost, but supposedly you can use this in baked goods.
Makes 1 quart
2/3 cup raw almonds
4 cups filtered water
a pinch of salt
2-3 dates, pitted (optional)
Rinse the almonds, place in a bowl and fill with filtered water. Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight (see notes above).
Place all ingredients in a blender, and blend on high for a minute or two, until the almonds are very well broken down. Letting this sit about 10 minutes will make the almond milk creamier.
If you have a nut milk bag, place it over a bowl and pour all the milk into it. Squeeze it to release the excess liquid, then remove the nut pulp, rinse the bag well, and hang it up to dry.
If you don't have a nut milk bag, set a metal strainer over a bowl and place a few layers of cheesecloth over it. Pour the almond milk through the cheesecloth (you may have to do this in batches). Once most of the liquid has drained out, gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze to remove the excess liquid.
Store the almond milk in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and be sure to shake before use. It's best used within 3-4 days.