- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

As a child, I thought buttermilk was something old people (anyone over 30) consumed. Who else would drink thick, sour-tast-

ing milk when soda was so much more palatable?

I’m pleased to say I changed my mind. To my more mature palate, buttermilk — with its tangy flavor and full-bodied texture — is a delightful, refreshing beverage as well as a versatile recipe ingredient.

Despite the butter in the name, this product is lower in fat and calories than whole milk. Buttermilk is made by culturing fat-free milk. The milk gets its buttery flavor from a harmless bacterium, according to the description in “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee (Scribner’s).

Buttermilk, which blends well with vegetables, is the foundation for many quick summer soups. Try matching the beverage with cucumbers, spinach, scallions or potatoes for an easy dish.

If a thirst-quenching beverage is what you’re after, buttermilk delivers. However, for those like me, who still crave a little sweetness, I recommend a fruit smoothie instead of a plain glass of buttermilk. Substitute half or all of the whole milk in a smoothie recipe with buttermilk.

In the following recipe, spinach, scallions and dill weed give buttermilk a pleasant and subtle anise taste and vibrant green color. Serve spinach and buttermilk soup with corn muffins for a light meal. For an elegant dinner, prepare the soup as a first course and feature salmon with beet relish as the entree.

Spinach and buttermilk soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

4 cups baby spinach

cup chopped scallions

1 teaspoon minced fresh dill weed

1 cup buttermilk

2 tablespoons sour cream (see note)

teaspoon salt

teaspoon pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Wash the spinach, but don’t dry the leaves. Add the spinach to the pan and cook over medium heat about 3 minutes or until limp. Add scallions and dill weed and heat 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in buttermilk, sour cream, salt and pepper. Puree in a blender or food processor. Serve immediately or pour into a pitcher and chill.

Makes 2 servings.

Note: If desired, skip the sour cream and add 2 extra tablespoons buttermilk to the soup.

Salmon with beet relish

Beet relish (recipe follows)

1 (12-ounce) salmon fillet

1 tablespoon sweet-hot mustard

Prepare beet relish and set aside.

Place salmon, skin-side down, on the greased rack of a roasting pan or on the greased grid of a grill. Brush with mustard. Roast in 425-degree oven for 12 minutes or over a hot grill for 10 to 12 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through. Remove from heat, cut into 2 portions and serve with beet relish. Makes 2 servings.

Beet relish:

4 small red beets, scrubbed and quartered

1 medium navel orange

1 small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon white balsamic or white wine vinegar

teaspoon salt

teaspoon pepper

Place beets in a small pan with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook 20 minutes or until tender. Drain, peel and dice. Place in a bowl. Peel and dice the orange and add to the beets. Add the shallot, cilantro, vinegar, salt and pepper. Stir well.

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