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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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Buttermilk ices

Buttermilk is one of those underappreciated dairy foods, as is the even less well-loved nonfat powdered dry milk. Both are somewhat unappetizing taken straight. A glass of buttermilk, though it has its fans, can taste like liquid cottage cheese, and reconstituted NFPD never quite sheds its dank, sticky chalkiness, especially if you’re attempting to use it in the morning coffee (a desperate we’re-all-out-of-actual-milk substitute that has driven me to Starbucks more than once).

Cookbooks tend to ignore buttermilk and NFPD or else sweep them into baking recipes where they won’t matter much, won’t be recognizable, and certainly won’t dominate the taste. Given how much protein and calcium they contain and how inexpensive they are, that’s kind of a shame.

But treat them right and you get something light, versatile and delicious for dessert. Buttermilk’s actually a little easier to believe in an ice cream-like dessert than NFPD is. Foodie magazines feature lots of lemon buttermilk ice creams this time of year, but they include such odd and unnecessarily rich ingredients as cream cheese to simulate a superpremium ice cream’s texture. Not only is it extremely calorie-dense, it’s really, really expensive. Kind of defeats the purpose of using lowfat buttermilk in the first place.

My version of a lemon buttermilk ice uses NFPD instead of fat to create the microcrystalline structure that keeps it from turning into a huge popsicle. It won’t melt quite the same as ice cream, but it’s packed with flavor and a small portion feels like “enough”, especially with fresh fruit on the side.

NFPD’s stale chalkiness and crumbly texture are not so hard to fix, but I haven’t seen anyone presenting a method for it so I’m doing it here. There are two tricks, both of which can probably help for other NFPD recipes, even savory ones.

First is the taste–in this case, the lemon juice and rind seem to counter it quite successfully, and the juice also seems to help NFPD dissolve more smoothly. Orange juice seems to work also, so maybe it’s the tangy acidity that counteracts the stale milk taste. As long as you’re not heating it up, you don’t run the risk of curdling either.

Second is the clumpiness. There are a couple of Indian recipes where it’s actually a possible advantage–gulab jamun and burfi both seem to take advantage of NFPD’s doughiness when mixed with a scant amount of liquid. But for desserts where you want it to dissolve smoothly, just whiz the dry NFPD by itself in a food processor, or just with sugar, to get it to a fine dust before blending in any liquids.

Lemon Buttermilk Ice (makes about 8  1/3- to 1/2-cup servings)

  • 3.2 oz (91 g) packet nonfat powdered dry milk (or the amount specified on the package for a quart of reconstituted milk)
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 c. lowfat buttermilk–drained a bit if it’s starting to separate
  • juice and grated peel of a lemon
  • 1/2 t. vanilla or to taste

Grind the NFPD and sugar together in a food processor until they form a very fine powder. Pour in the buttermilk and pulse to get the powder off the bottom of the food processor. Add the lemon juice and peel and the vanilla and blend again. Either pour into an ice cream maker for churning or into a freezer container with a sealable lid and freeze an hour or so. Scrape the frozen crystals off the sides, stir them into the still-liquid part of the buttermilk ice, cover again and refreeze. Do this once or twice more. Serve with fruit.

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