Photo by Laura Poe
If you are staying at home for an extended period of time, as so many are right now, you may have extra time for fermenting projects on your hands. Whether you are totally new to fermenting or have a bit of previous experience, this is the perfect time to try a few new recipes and fermentation methods. If you have some items in the pantry that you aren’t sure what to with or foods in the fridge that are on their way out, they may just be destined for fermentation. For those who are wanting easy ferments that use what is on hand and can be done in a shorter period of time, here is the first of three simple ferments that come together and are ready-to-eat quickly, getting you the tasty, probiotic-rich foods you want asap.
If you have ever wondered what to do with those few beets rattling around in your crisper drawer, may I suggest to you Beet Kvass. Kvass are a family of non-alcoholic fermented beverages, made from a variety of foods, that originate from Eastern Europe; beet kvass is most associated with Ukraine. Kvass is earthy, tart, brine-y and a bit sweet, and is best reserved for beet lovers, if I’m being honest (I’m one of them!). It is beautiful in color and full of nutrients. Beets are good sources of potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, and betaine, and their bright red color indicates their high antioxidant content. Because kvass is fermented, it is also full of beneficial bacteria and yeasts to promote a robust microbiome and stimulate immune function.
Kvass is made similarly to brined vegetables, with a higher ratio of liquid to vegetable, resulting in a beverage rather than condiment. To make kvass, simply dice beets, add extra goodies if you like, then let sit to ferment in a salt-water brine. Be sure to opt for diced rather than grated beets, as grating releases excess juice. Beet juice is naturally high in sugar and this extra sugar from grating can make the fermentation tend toward yeast rather than bacterial (so, it can turn out a bit boozy, and not in the good way). Adding a starter culture, such as the liquid whey drained from plain yogurt or strained from kefir, can speed up the fermentation process by inoculating the kvass with live, active cultures. The brine from sauerkraut or lacto-fermented pickles will also work, and keeps the kvass dairy-free if needed. You can certainly make this with wild-fermentation, as the beets are already a source of lactobacilli, but this will just make the kvass take about twice as long to ferment. I have personally found that issues like mold and yeast are greatly reduced when a starter culture is present as well. Whichever method you choose, you can feel free to add small amounts of other ingredients as you like to make it your own. Go savory with herbs like dill, caraway, or garlic, or sweet with a bit of ginger, berries, or apple.
Kvass is used more as a tonic rather than a “beverage” to drink by the cupful; a 4-6 ounce serving is plenty, and is best consumed right around mealtimes to promote digestion. You can simply sip it as-is, or add it to sparkling water or juice to make a kvass spritzer. It is even delicious stirred into borscht (or any soup, really) just before serving to add a splash of flavor and probiotics. Even better, kvass can be thrown in a bloody mary or your favorite cocktail for a nutritional boost and a way to make your at-home party a little bit healthier.
Photo by Laura Poe
Beet Kvass with Ginger and Lemon
Prep time: 3 to 7 days
Makes: approx. 1 quart
- 2 lbs. beets, diced (2 to 4 medium-sized beets)
- 1 Tbsp. fine sea salt, or to taste
- About 1 quart filtered water
- 4 Tbsp. starter culture, such as: whey drained from plain yogurt or kefir; juice from sauerkraut, kim chi, or other lacto-fermented vegetables (optional)
- 3-4-inch piece ginger, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- Scrub the beets dice them into1/2” pieces. If you are using organic beets, there is no need to peel, but be sure to peel them if using conventional. Combine diced beets with the chopped ginger and the starter culture (if using) into one half-gallon-size glass jar. Alternately, you can divide the batch between two quart-size glass jars. Stir in the sea salt. Fill the jar(s) with filtered water, up to the shoulders of the jar, and cover with a non-reactive lid. Stir or shake well.
- Let the mixture sit, at room temperature, for about 3 days if using a starter culture, or closer to 7 days if going with wild-fermentation. Either way, check your jar daily for possible mold or yeast growing on the surface. If mold appears, toss the batch and try again. If kahm yeast, which will appear more like a thin film on top rather than fuzzy dots as mold typically does, simply skim it off and continue.
- Your kvass will be “ready” once the brine has a nice, tart flavor and is slightly effervescent. Its flavor may be similar to other fermented vegetables. The “done-ness” is fully up to you; if you like a stronger flavor and more effervescence, then you can let it continue to sit at room temperature to ferment. For a lighter, milder taste, you can let it be done sooner. When you are ready to drink your kvass, strain the liquid from the beets and ginger, setting them aside for a second batch (see note).
- Stir the lemon juice into the kvass. The kvass is ready for refrigeration and consumption at this point. Alternately, you can transfer the finished kvass to a flip-top round bottle, such as those typically used for beer brewing, for a second fermentation. These bottles are the only truly safe vessels for producing carbonated fermented beverages, so please only use these for the second step. When kept in this airtight bottle at room temperature for an extra 1 to 2 days, the kvass will become lightly carbonated. Be careful when opening, however, as it will be quite effervescent and prone to overflowing.
- After either the first or second fermentations, the kvass may then be stored in the refrigerator for up to several months.
- Repeat the previous steps for the second batch of kvass using the same beets, discarding them after their second use.
Recipe Note: While this yields approximately one quart of kvass, you can certainly double or halve the recipe if needed. You can use red, golden, or Chioggia beets for kvass, whichever you prefer or have on hand. The beets from this batch may be reused once more to make a second batch of kvass; after the second use, discard the beets. After two uses, most of their nutrients, flavor, and fermentation potential have already been transferred into the kvass.
Laura is a Registered Dietician and a Traditional Foods Instructor.
Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Laura moved all over the U.S. before she finally figured out that she is a country girl at heart, and settled down on her homestead in the Driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin with her husband.
Laura is a private practice dietitian, focusing on individualized healing and adding in traditional, whole foods, with emphases on digestion and mental health. She is a blogger, writer, and speaker on health and traditional cooking techniques, such as fermentation and cooking with organ meats. If you can ferment it, Laura will try to do it. She also coaches functional movement classes and loves to spend time with her family and be out in nature as much as possible, especially canoeing and hiking.
When not cooking, eating, or talking about food, Laura also enjoys stand-up comedy, learning German and drinking wine. Not all together.