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Penance for a Food Product Snub

Forgive me, kefir, for I have sinned.

For years, I never tried you, never cared to, never even thought about it.

What can I say? There was just something about your name that turned me off.

I love your distant cousin, yogurt, whose name I’ve grown accustomed to saying effortlessly and joyously.

But you, kefir, every time I heard your name, I just turned the other way.

The tragedy.

I hope you can find it in your cultured, fermented heart to forgive me now, because thanks to the good folks at Lifeway, who cajoled and persisted with samples, I finally tried you.

And now — dare I say it — I ADORE you.

I know you’re supposedly good for the immune system, and may even be a godsend for everything from bad breath to lactose intolerance to high cholesterol to irritable bowel syndrome (OK, we won’t go there). But you know what I like most about you? That you’re like a bad boy who is actually a good guy. Oh you know what I mean — you tempt with your thick, rich, creamy body akin to a high-cal smoothie or milkshake. But really, you’re more like drinkable yogurt, except made with more than twice the amount of live and active cultures. And you’re easily found at Whole Foods or Target.

Kefir, my friend who is made with milk fermented with kefir cultures,  your lowfat self has only 160 calories in 1 cup (with only 2g total fat), and can boast of providing 30 percent of the daily calcium requirement and 25 percent of the daily Vitamin D requirement.

You rock. So much so that I even took the effort to spotlight you in a dessert of panna cotta.

I loved all your flavors that I tried, except for the cherry one, which for some odd reason, tasted a bit artificial, even though it isn’t. I used your strawberry lowfat self to create this eggless, unbaked custard that is cold, creamy and so satisfying on a warm summer day.

Kefir, I can never apologize enough for how I’ve wronged you in the past. But I hope this dreamy-creamy treat begins to make up for it.

Strawberry Kefir Panna Cotta

(Makes 6)

3 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin

1 1/4 cups whipping cream

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 cups lowfat strawberry kefir or your favorite flavor

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Fresh fruit and  mint leaves, for garnish

Pour 3 tablespoons water into a small custard cup and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let stand until gelatin soften for about 10 minutes.

Combine whipping cream and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is hot; don’t boil it. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin mixture until completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. Cool mixture to room temperature, about 45 minutes.

Stir kefir and vanilla extract into cream mixture. Pour mixture through a fine strainer into a large 4-cup measuring cup. Divide mixture among six (3/4-cup) custard cups or ramekins. Refrigerate until panna cotta is set, at least 6 hours or up to 1 day.

You can eat the panna cotta right out of the ramekins or unmold them. To unmold, run a thin knife around the sides of each panna cotta. Then, one at at time, place bottom of each ramekin in a bowl that has 1-inch of hot water in it. After about 45 seconds, remove the ramekin from the bowl of water. Place a plate over the ramekin and invert. Then, while holding tightly onto the custard cup and plate together, give it one strong shake. The custard should then release and settle onto the plate. Garnish with fresh fruit and mint leaves, if you like.

From Carolyn Jung

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