As you may or may not know, I have done a lot of traveling in the former Soviet Union (even though only my trip last year to Ukraine is chronicled on this blog). During my very first trip to Russia, I was introduced to kefir, a beverage similar to buttermilk. (Wikipedia has a pretty good article on kefir.) Until recently, I never saw it in the US (it seems to be a new health-food fad, even though it's been a staple on the shelves across the former Soviet Union for ages). While I can actually find it in the grocery store nowadays, it's just not quite the same. Then I learned that I could grow my own. Kefir is grown by immersing kefir grains in milk and letting it culture. You can buy kefir grains online - I buy these. They start off tiny, and only make about a half cup of kefir, but within a month you have enough to make several glasses of kefir a day. I've found that keeping the kefir grains in a tea ball works quite well, and makes it easier to drink the kefir without accidentally downing any of your grains (you can tell if they get in your mouth because they're rubbery and chewy).
This is how the kefir grains looked when they arrived.
This is how they looked when I first put them in the cup (before I started using the tea ball).
Kefir! Yes, I know, it looks foul, but I promise it isn't.
When I was living in Kyrgyzstan back in 2008 I discovered a beverage called tan (pronounced tahn - it does not rhyme with suntan). It is similar to the Turkish beverage Ayran, and I often described it as being vaguely similar to carbonated buttermilk. It sounds gross, but I loved it. It's tangy, it's a great thirst quencher (it's sold fresh on the side of the road in Bishkek during the summer months), and it is also the world's best hangover cure. Seriously. If you're drunk and you drink some before you go to bed, you'll be fine when you awaken. If you neglect to do this and wake up in the morning hungover, drink some and it will ease your pain. Believe me, we tested this a good bit back in 2008 and again this past summer in Ukraine. You can get tan with dill, tan with dill and cucumbers, tan with mint, etc. My favorite variety was tan with dill.
There seem to be three bottles of tan and two bottles of kefir on this table.
I learned a few weeks ago that tan was simply kefir + selzer water + salt, and waited eagerly for my kefir grains to grow to the point that I had enough to make myself a decent batch of tan... and finally I have been able to recreate this wonderful beverage in my kitchen. I use one cup of kefir, slightly less than one cup of seltzer water (spring water, sparkling water, soda water, gassy water, whatever you want to call it), about half a teaspoon of salt, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Stir and chill. Yum!
The final product - yummy tan. I recommend breaking up your dill into smaller pieces than I did here though.