Living Kvass Borscht

Like beer is to the Germans, Kvass is the national drink and a daily staple of East Slavic peoples, its importance dramatized in the words of poet Alexander Pushkin, “their kvass they needed like fresh air.” In tandem with the resurgence of interest in homebrewing and home fermentation, kvass is currently seeing a comeback in international realms.

The most basic of kvass is made by incomplete yeast/lactic acid fermentation of stale bread or a cereal grain such as rye, wheat or buckwheat over a brief period of several days. The mildly fermented liquid is then filtered and consumed on its own or added to soups. Its alcohol percent is low, between 0.7-2.2%. Variations of kvass number as many as the babushkas of Russia, and also depend on the region and season. For example, Ukraine has kvass made from fermented beets – the topic of my first foray into soured vegetables. Fruit kvass also is popular choice for starters.

I followed the directions for soured beets from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, using a tenth of the recipe as a tester. Technically this is not true kvass since the beet mix is not diluted with water, but otherwise it comes close. After three days at room temperature, the expressed elixir was the shade of clotted blood, a deep Tyrian purple with an iridescent shine when held up to light. I shifted it to the fridge and a week later, used it in this Living Kvass Borscht.

The taste of fermented Borscht was mind-boggling – it bore a bewitching sour sweet flavor of incomprehensible complexity that left the palate tingling. Because kvass is salty, you would want to balance it with sweetness, which is provided by carrots and apples in this recipe. After all, you can’t go wrong with the classic combination of beets, carrot, celery and apple, and this fermented version just brought sublime to a new level!

Living Kvass Borscht
 
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A palate tingling borscht of incomprehensible complexity made with fermented soured beets or kvass as the base.
Author:
Recipe type: Soups
Cuisine: Fermented / Cultured
Serves: 2
Ingredients
For the Soured Beets / Kvass
  • 1 (200g) small beet
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill
For the Borscht
  • 1½ cups soured beets OR ½ cup beet kvass
  • ¼ cup carrot juice
  • ¼ cup celery juice
  • ¼ cup green apple juice
Optional
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Fresh dill, chopped
  • Coconut yogurt
Directions
To Make Soured Beets
  1. Clean and peel beets. Using a sharp chef's knife, chop beets into fine batons (3mm x 3mm x 40mm). Place the chopped beets into a large ceramic or glass bowl as you chop.
  2. Sprinkle salt on the beets as you go. Sprinkle in herbs and spices. I used celery seed and dill since I was planning on turning it into Borscht, but other ideas are caraway seeds, cumin seeds, ginger, juniper berries or star anise.
  3. Using very clean hands, massage the mixture to coax the beet juice out. Pack the mixture firmly into an air-tight fermenting jar and ensure that the beets are submerged beneath brine. If necessary, top up with brine (use 1 tablespoon salt to 1 cup water).
  4. Leave the jar to sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for 2-4 days, depending on how sour you like it. Check the surface daily for yeast or mold and remove any immediately. Once it is sour enough to your preference, it can be enjoyed raw or used in soups.
To make Living Kvass Borscht
  1. Place soured beets, carrot, celery and green apples through a juicer, collecting the juice from each ingredient separately.
  2. In a large mason jar, measure out and mix the borscht in the above proportions. Shake well and consume directly, or pour out into serving bowls and garnish with chopped fresh dill, cilantro and coconut yogurt, if desired.
Notes
As noted by fermentation specialist Sally Fallon, avoid finely grated beets as too rapid fermentation favors alcoholic fermentation rather than lactic acid. Beets should be coarsely chopped by hand.
 

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