Chef Bill Kim had just one reason for using coconut milk in bellyQ�s side dish of creamy spinach with dried shrimp and Chinese sausage ($6): He�s lactose intolerant. �I want to taste all my food, so we try to do away with a lot of dairy,� he says. The spinach is first braised with garlic before getting hit with coconut milk; it�s served with cold quinoa that�s been spiked with lemongrass, fish sauce and lime juice. The popularity of the dish�the restaurant goes through seven cases of spinach a day�means diners will also find it served alongside seared salmon on the new lunch menu. 1400 W Randolph St (312-563-1010).
Paul Fehribach of Big Jones based his red kuri squash dish ($16) on an old curry recipe from Charleston, South Carolina, packing it with confit�d cauliflower, baby carrots, roasted apples and oyster mushrooms. But one tweak he made was to swap out the cream for coconut milk in the gravylike sauce. �It adds fat for a luxurious mouthfeel and also adds a nice flavor,� says Fehribach of the sauce, which gets poured tableside. Candied peanuts add crunch; rice cakes underneath act as a sponge for all that gravy. 5347 N Clark St (773-275-5725).
John Manion�s no stranger to coconut milk, having spent some time in Brazil where it�s prevalent in a lot of dishes. At La Sirena Clandestina, he uses the milk in black-eyed pea fritters, sea bass, moqueca seafood stew and coconut-and-cilantro risotto ($7). Manion cooks the risotto in vegetable broth before combining it with a puree of cilantro, parsley, green onions, garlic and coconut milk, which adds a �depth and creaminess,� he says. Vegetarians looking for an entr�e-size dish can ask for some fresh vegetables to be added to it. 954 W Fulton Mkt (312-226-5300).