Buttermilk is a useful ingredient to have on hand. Refrigerated, it keeps a long time, usually way past its sell-by date. Too, buttermilk is one dairy product that a lot of people who are lactose intolerant can actually consume. Originally, buttermilk was made from the whey left over from churning butter, but most of the buttermilk you will find in the grocery store today is “cultured.” That is, it’s made by combining milk with a lacto-bacillus starter. These friendly bacteria eat the tummy-upsetting lactose, or milk sugars, in the milk, converting them to acidic lactase, which is easier to digest.

Buttermilk’s acidity makes it especially useful for baking. When mixed with baking soda and baking powder, the combination creates gases that give a lift to un-yeasted baked goods, while at the same time adding a satisfyingly tart dairy flavor-note to the finished product. Buttermilk is especially welcome in recipes calling for whole grains, which otherwise might be unappealingly leaden. The recipe below for buckwheat waffles is a great example – even with a 50-50 split between whole grain and white flours, the waffles cook up nice and light.

Buttermilk made with living cultures is, when uncooked, a pro-biotic food, one that delivers good-for-you microbes to the digestive tract. There’s no need to drink it by the glassful to get this benefit. Simply add raw buttermilk to chilled soups, smoothies, or as in the recipe here, use it as an ingredient in salad dressing. I particularly like buttermilk salad dressing poured over sliced avocados – the fatty avocados are beautifully balanced by the tangy dressing.

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles

Buttermilk Buckwheat Waffles with maple syrup, butter and cherry jam.

  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
  • 2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole grain buckwheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • butter, jam and maple syrup for serving

Whisk the eggs together in a small bowl. Whisk the melted butter into the eggs, then whisk in the buttermilk. Set aside.

Whisk together in a larger bowl all of the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients and stir until well-incorporated. It is all right if there a few lumps. Let rest a few minutes before continuing.

Use a cup or ladle to pour enough of the batter into the heated waffle iron to come about 1/2 inch from the edge of the waffle form – the batter will spread and expand as it cooks, so don’t overfill. Close the lid of the iron.

Cook, monitoring the heat carefully, until the waffle is beginning to brown on the first side, then flip the waffle iron over and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown.

Serve immediately with butter, jam and warm real maple syrup. You will have enough batter to make five or six 7 inch by 7 inch waffles.

Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Salad Dressing

Tangy Buttermilk Salad Dressing with fresh herbs.

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons good cider or rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste if desired)
  • about 1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil (more or less to taste – can also be a combination of olive oil and other less flavorful oil, if desired)
  • about 1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs, or 1 teaspoon dried (can be a mixture – dill, basil, chives are all good)
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine the mustard, shallots, vinegar, buttermilk and salt in a bowl and whisk together well. Drizzle in the olive oil, a little at a time, whisking like crazy as you do so that the mixture emulsifies.

When all the oil has been added, stir in the fresh herbs and ground pepper. Taste and adjust the flavorings with a little more oil, vinegar, salt or herbs and pepper, if desired.

This will probably be enough dressing for a few meals, as you will need only a tablespoon or two for an individual salad. Makes about 3/4 cup.

Root-Sprouted Legumes

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Dried beans and peas are inexpensive, nutritious and satisfying – perfect ingredients for cold weather fare. But many cooks avoid dried legumes, put off by their long cooking time and reputation for causing, shall I say, “gastric distress.”

There’s a simple trick, though, to address the issues of long-cooking time and indigestibility: root sprouting.

You’re probably already familiar with the crunchy sprouts you can pick up in the produce section of most grocery stores; perhaps you make your own.

The process is simple. The seeds are rinsed in clean water, then soaked for several hours until they swell. They are then drained and placed in a container that has plenty of room for growth (dried legumes will expand at least four-fold), typically a glass jar with a piece of plastic screening bound with a rubber band over its top to allow for air circulation and drainage.

root-sprouted mung beans

root-sprouted mung beans

The jar is placed on its side in a fairly warm spot out of direct sunlight and twice a day the seeds are rinsed well with lukewarm water and drained; this prevents the seeds from growing unwanted fungi or bacteria. After several days (depending on seed viability and variety), roots emerge, followed by the “cotyledon” or first leaves.

For our purposes, though, we don’t need or even want the cotyledon to sprout. As soon as the root begins to pierce the skin of the legume, the formerly hard as a rock bean or pea has been transformed by metabolic activity into something soft enough to cook fairly quickly, its undigestible starches transformed into much more easily digested sugars.

Some sprouted legumes, such as dried peas and mung beans, cook up soft enough to eat without becoming mealy and mushy like most cooked legumes. Too, root-sprouted legumes are more nutritious than conventionally cooked dried beans and peas because sprouting results in a spike of nutrients meant to feed the growing seedlings.

And finally, because root-sprouted legumes must still be cooked before eating (unlike fully sprouted seeds), there’s no need to worry about the pathogens, such as salmonella and e-coli, that sometimes cause illness when people eat raw sprouts. Long simmering kills most food-borne microbes, so it’s fine to sprout dried legumes bought off the shelf in the grocery store, rather than buying guaranteed pathogen-free seeds, as is recommended if you intend to consume sprouts raw.

I have had good luck sprouting many different legumes; most will work just so long as they are whole, have skins intact and are not too old. In my experience, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans and mung beans all germinate rapidly and taste great. I have had less luck with black beans, kidneys and pintos, all of which I suspect were too old to be viable. If four or five days go by with no sign of roots, I recommend simply cooking the beans in the conventional manner rather than waiting any longer.

Here are two easy recipes for root-sprouted legumes. The first is a nutritious Japanese-style soup full of the umami flavors found in shitake mushrooms, seaweed and soybeans. The second is for a tart-crunchy-spicy Indian curry that goes together quickly and could make a vegetarian meal accompanied by flatbreads or brown rice, or would also be delicious as a side to grilled fish or meat.

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shitake Soup

Sprouted Soybean and Shiitake Soup

  •  2 cups root-sprouted soybeans (start with about 1/2 cup dried)
  • 2 cups sliced fresh or reconstituted dried shiitakes (if dried soak 1 cup mushrooms in 2 cups water and reserve the water for the soup)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water (can include the mushroom soaking liquid)
  • 1/2 cup sake or white wine (optional)
  • 1tablespoon dried wakame seaweed, soaked in 1 cup water
  • 1 small bunch scallions, trimmed then sliced into rings, white and green parts
  • salt to taste (may not be needed depending on how salty the seaweed is)
  • pieces of lime for squeezing or good rice or cider vinegar (optional)
  • ground hot red pepper or sriracha sauce (optional)

Place the soybeans, the shitakes, stock, water (and/or mushroom soaking liquid), and sake together in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes, skimming any foam that gathers on the soup’s surface and discarding.

When the shiitakes and soybeans are tender, add the wakame and cook 5-10 minutes longer. Taste to see if the broth needs salt – the seaweed may have added enough seasoning already.

Just before serving, stir in the chopped scallions. Pour the soup into warmed bowls and serve with lime slices or vinegar and hot pepper on the side, so that guests may add as much acid and heat as desired to their own bowls.

Serves 6-8.

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

Sprouted Mung Bean And Pea Curry

 Sprouted Pea and Mung Bean Curry

  •  2 tablespoons oil, such as sunflower
  • 1 large onion, red or yellow, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/4-1/2 cup pickled jalapenos, chopped (more or less to taste)
  • 4 cups root-sprouted dried peas and/or mung beans (you will need to start with 1 cup dried)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (more or less to taste)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 small bunch cilantro (try to find a bunch with roots still on it), rinsed and chopped, including stems and roots

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, then add the onion and saute, stirring for 5 or 10 minutes, until just beginning to turn brown around the edges. Add the garlic and cook for a minute and then add the turmeric, cumin and coriander and cook, stirring for a few minutes. Add the chopped jalapenos, and stir well, then add the beans and peas and stir for a minute or two.

Stir in the water and salt, bring to a simmer, lower the heat and put a lid on the pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the legumes are cooked, but still have a nice crunch to them. Stir in the chopped cilantro, taste for seasonings and adjust if desired.

Serve with lime slices on the side for diners to adjust the tartness of the curry, if desired. Serves 4-6 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish.