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[Photographs: Autumn Giles]

Some people refer to kefir as 'runny yogurt', but this fermented milk drink might actually have more in common with kombucha. It's made by introducing kefir grains—the starter—into milk and allowing them to do their thing. While yogurt is fermented only with bacteria, the kefir grains are a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. (Kombucha home brewers will recognize this as similar to the "SCOBY" used to make kombucha.) Kefir is often described as 'effervescent'—it's the Champagne of milk!—and many folks who are lactose intolerant can enjoy kefir, as little lactose remains in the finished product. Although the rich, sour drink is strangely addictive on its own, kefir also makes a perfect tart background for both sweet and savory smoothies.

Here are three easy recipes for delicious kefir drinks to make at home. You can use homemade kefir or buy an unsweetened, unflavored brand from the dairy section of your local grocery store. Get your blender ready!

Kefir Date Shake

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Date shakes, which are iconic to the date-growing regions of Southern California, rely on the natural sweetness and caramel-like flavor of dates, unfettered by other flavors. These shakes are typically with just milk, dates, and vanilla ice cream—I love how dates are the star of these shakes, especially since they're not something we often seek out for their flavor. Since dates pack such a sugary punch, they're a great match for a pour of tangy kefir. This version of the regional specialty pairs kefir with store-bought frozen yogurt and dates for a satisfying not-too-sweet treat.

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Spicy and Salty Mango Lassi

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One of my personal favorite signs of spring in New York City is the reappearance of the mango street vendors. The street vendor mango comes in number of iterations: sometimes, the fruit is on a stick, sometimes in a plastic bag, usually with the option of adding citrus juice and some spicy, salty accompaniment. I decided to offer this seasonal treat in smoothie form, bringing together the concepts of the Indian mango lassi with spicy street-vendor mangoes.

In this recipe, tart kefir is blended with the flesh of fresh mangoes and spiked with cayenne pepper and a bit of salt. I'm a savory breakfast devotee, but because this is fruit-sweetened and has both salt and spice, I can totally see starting many mornings with this smoothie.

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Avocado Kefir Smoothie with Ginger and Mint

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If you're a fan of green juices, you're probably already used to the idea of drinking a savory smoothie. This take on a green smoothie is buttery and delicious thanks to ripe avocado. The combination of avocado and tangy kefir lends the drink an especially thick texture. The zing of fresh ginger and the cooling qualities of mint help make this smoothie fresh. This is perfect for when you're craving something rich and flavorful, but don't want sweets.

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About the Author: Autumn Giles is a writer in Queens, NY. You can see her work on Autumn Makes & Does, listen to her talk on the Alphabet Soup Podcast, and talk at her on twitter.

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