Beet Kvass (gluten-free)
In its traditional Slavic form, kvass [say: kah-vahse] is a fermented drink made from rye bread, yeast, and water — and flavored with everything from fresh berries to mint or spring birch sap. This is not that! It’s a beet kvass: Hold the gluten, hold the yeast. It’s basically made with beets, salt, water, and a wee bit of honey. If you’re into lacto-fermented foods (hello, who isn’t?), you’ve probably seen beet kvass around. It’s beloved for its briny flavor, vibrant garnet color, and lactobacillus bacteria, which are great for gut health and digestion.
Beet kvass is a fantastic DIY tonic: It’s easy to put together, and it has all the fermented je ne sais quoi of kombucha — drink a bottle of it, and you’ll suddenly find you can’t get through a day without it. Luckily, it’s made from very humble ingredients. In this case, we’ve added carrots and ginger to the usual mix. Beet juice can ferment into a thick, syrupy drink. The carrots give the kvass a light, smooth texture and a ruby hue — they also add some natural sweetness. The ginger is there for spicy depth.
In your glass, the kvass has a lightly carbonated vivacity, and it tastes earthy-sweet, sour, and a little salty. There’s some heat from the ginger too. One of our tasters said it was like drinking a mild pickle juice. We agree, in the best way: its salty pucker hits you right in the middle of the palate and sets your salivary glands in motion. More, please.
Our tip: In addition to being an energizing tonic, kvass can add a bright note to recipes. You can shake it up in salad dressings, like a mild vinegar. It’s also nice for finishing soups, like a last swirl of lemon. And, of course, you can swap it into your kombucha- and shrub-based cocktails.
Yields: 4 16-oz bottles
12 cups filtered water
2 Tbsp sea salt
1 ½ lbs organic red beets, unpeeled, rinsed, ends trimmed
10 oz organic carrots, unpeeled, rinsed, ends trimmed
6 oz ginger, skin removed
3 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut juice
Lemon rind or slices, for serving
Special equipment: 1-gallon wide-mouth jar, funnel, and 4 16-oz fermentation-grade bottles with tight sealing lids.
In a non-reactive 4-quart saucepan, heat the water and salt, stirring, until the salt dissolves. Let cool.
Wash the 1-gallon jar with hot water and soap. Let dry.
Chop the beets into ½-inch pieces. Cut the carrots and ginger into ¼- to ½-inch thick coins. Add the vegetables to the jar.
Add the honey and sauerkraut juice, and then top with the saltwater brine, filling the jar to just above the point where it begins to taper (1 to 2 inches from the top). Stir to mix.
Screw on the lid, and store the jar in a cool, dark place for 2 days. “Burp” the jar after 24 hours by unscrewing the lid, releasing any air, and screwing the lid back on.
Transfer the jar to the refrigerator, and let the kvass ferment until the desired flavor is reached, about 7 to 10 days. It should taste slightly sour. Note: it’s okay if the kvass develops a thin white film on top of the liquid, just skim it off with a spoon at the end of the fermentation.
Strain the kvass through a mesh strainer into a pitcher. At this point, the kvass is ready to drink. Note: the pickled vegetables can be reserved and roasted.
To carbonate, divide the kvass into clean, fermentation-grade bottles, using a funnel. Leave a few inches of room in the neck of the bottles. Store the bottles in a cool, dark place for two days. Transfer the bottles to the refrigerator. The flavor will continue to develop over time.
Drink the kvass as a tonic with lemon. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.